Tourism to Sri Lanka is recovering faster than expected following the lifting of the Foreign and Commonwelath Office ban on travel, but there is still some “catching up” to do, according to industry experts.
Visitor numbers to Sri Lanka dropped sharply by 70% in May, the month after the Easter Sunday attacks that targeted churches and luxury hotels, and killed at least 253.
But specialist tour operators have reported a gradual recovery in demand since the FCO lifted its travel advisory on June 6.
A ‘Sri Lanka Revival’ event was held in London on Tuesday, organised by the Specialist Travel Assocation (Aito), to bring tour operators, hoteliers, DMCs, representatives from the Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Bureau and High Commission and UK media together to stimulate growth to the destination.
Sam Clark, co-founder and managing director of Experience Travel Group, said: “After the FCO changed its advice, we saw an immediate boost in website traffic and started to see some enquiries come in, and week by week, that has increased. They’re good enquiries because they have really thought about Sri Lanka so they’re converting at quite a good rate.
“Year on year, enquiry levels are around 50% [down], and this time last year, it was a little slow because of the World Cup, so there’s a lot of work to do. We’re going to be a long way behind on catching up with the season.”
The number of UK arrivals fell to 2,953 in May and 4,365 in June – a 68.4% and 63.9% year-on-year drop respectively – but tour operators are reporting positive forward bookings for the coming winter season.
Hiran Cooray, chairman of Sri Lankan hotel group Jetwing, said: “We did not expect the recovery to be this fast. The support we have got is overwhelming, from the UK and other countries as well.
“The support we got was amazing, we are so grateful for that – the tour operators, the travel agents.
“All the experts said it would take nine months to a year, but in the month of August, Jetwing alone has already received over 10,000 room nights booked from international customers. So we will have a reasonably busy August, and that’s a very good start.
“With that support, I think we will recover a lot faster than expected.”
The government has implemented a number of initiatives to boost tourism, including reducing ground handling costs at Colombo airport, reducing VAT on tourism-related supplies, and boosting security at tourist-oriented areas including the airport, hotels and shopping complexes.
Manisha Gunasekera, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to the UK, said: “The travel advisory being relaxed was in accordance with the situation in Sri Lanka and I am very appreciative of the UK government for the interest they took.
“We saw a drop in tourism in May [but] there has been a percentage increase in June. I’m very hopeful that this momentum will continue. When we speak to the industry they are very hopeful as well.
“The UK is a very special market for us and it’s very important for us to reinforce and continue that momentum and show Sri Lanka for what it is – a wonderful travel destination.”
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