Sri Lanka tourism authorities are hopeful that the re-opening of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) yesterday, after the relaying of its runway, would help reverse the negative trend in arrivals witnessed in the last two months.
“We have been building the momentum and watching the numbers grow but unfortunately the airport closure came upon us at the peak of the tourist season and it has had its anticipated negative effect. Although we managed to somewhat overcome the difficulties in January, arrivals in February and March were affected,” said Tourism Development, Lands and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga.
The airport closure resulted in many flight cancellations and downscaling of operations by airlines directly affecting the tourism industry.
“We are happy that the impact was minimal compared to what the industry expected when the closure was first announced.
All credit must go to the airport authorities who were on top of the situation from day one and ensured smooth passenger traffic during the limited operational hours,” noted the minister adding that the operational efficiency achieved during the last three months should be carried forward to make the BIA a top notch international airport.
“Although we feared the worst, except for a few issues in the first few days the operation has been very smooth. The fact that the airport reopened on the announced date is indeed commendable,” said Amaratunga.
The airport was officially closed for operations on January 1st this year from 8 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.
According to travel industry sources, following the airport closure, many tourists especially from the West had opted to rerouteto other destinations as they did not wish to spend extended hours in transit in Middle Eastern airports.
“Besides, there was a five hour advance check-in requirement that was introduced by the local airport authorities following the closure. Although this helped to ease the rush at the counters, tourists were wary of this requirement which came on top of the additional transit times at other airports.
Although bookings made earlier last year were largely unaffected, the closure affected new bookings which were reflected in the arrival numbers in February and March,” the minister remarked.
The BIA runway rehabilitation was long overdue with some airlines even threatening to pull out citing safety fears. With the rehabilitated runway the BIA can now accommodate all types of modern aircraft including the Airbus A380 which is the biggest aircraft in commercial operation today.
“We are happy that what should have been done 10 years ago has finally been done. We now need to improve international connectivity with Colombo. The fact that other than to London, there are no direct flights to any other destinations in Europe, which is our biggest tourism market, is a huge drawback and an issue that needs to be addressed urgently,” stressed the minister.