Bookings have begun to return for Sri Lanka amid hopes the lifting of the travel ban could save the destination’s peak winter season.

The trade reported enquiries leading to bookings almost as soon as the Foreign Office relaxed its travel advice last Thursday (June 6).

Independent operators immediately put Sri Lanka back on sale. Thomas Cook’s programme resumes on July 1, while Tui is still reviewing its programme.

The seven-week ban on all but essential travel followed terrorist bombings on three churches and
three luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, which killed 258 people.

Tricia Birmingham, product and commercial director for dnata’s B2B tour operations in Europe, said Gold Medal and Travel 2 had taken new bookings and put Sri Lanka back into clients’ itineraries, and put offers on social media.

Experience Travel Group said 68 of 103 forward bookings for Sri Lanka were going ahead. It had cancelled 12, postponed five and changed destinations for 18. Hits to its website were 25% up at the weekend, compared with prior weekends.

Managing director Sam Clark said the timing could help Sri Lanka: “The key booking period for winter 2019-20 is from now until August, so this gives us a chance to save the season.”

APT has increased departures on its Spirit of Sri Lanka tour from four to 12 for 2020-21 to demonstrate its confidence in the destination.

APT UK & Europe managing director Paul Melinis said: “Introducing extra dates to our Sri Lanka programme made sense, the destination has been on many people’s bucket list for 2019 and we anticipate this trend is set to continue, despite recent events.

“With the recent change in the FCO’s advice, a commitment from suppliers in the region and with the safety and security that comes with an escorted tour, we are confident that many will continue to book holidays to this incredible country that has so much to offer.”

Aito is now working with the Sri Lanka Tourist Promotion Board to get the destination back on its feet. It plans an invitation-only relaunch event next month and will reveal “exciting plans” within weeks.

A Kuoni mega-educational to Sri Lanka will go ahead in November. UK managing director Derek Jones said: “We’re actively talking to our colleagues there about what we can do to rebuild confidence.”

Oli Dobbs, business development manager of Sri Lanka specialist The Travel Gallery, said: “We are working with partners to relaunch Sri Lanka.”

Cox & Kings senior commercial and product manager Sue Livsey said: “There are some excellent offers to stimulate demand.”

MoreTrade welcomes return to Sri Lanka