Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is screaming for a shot in the arm and the present regime has heard this call loud and clear. We all know how the tourist industry was badly affected following the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings. Travel warnings were issued after the series of bombings; which resulted in tourist arrivals dropping by up to 70%. Occupancy at hotels dropped by 85%.
All what happened last year ridiculed the naming of Sri Lanka as the world’s top tourist destination for the year 2019.
But still Sri Lanka held on to this rating quite miraculously. It just underscored a fact that augurs well for the future of this Sri Lanka; the island nation has the potential to bounce back after a crisis.
The latest news coming from the tourist industry is that the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) has made many appoints to strengthen tourism in the island. A news that made headlines was the appointing of rapper and songwriter Iraj Weeraratne as one of the directors of the Sri Lanka Tourism and Promotion Bureau. Weeraratne could make an impact in the industry which is struggling to keep afloat largely due to his credentials as a Digital Media Marketeer and a Social Media Strategist. State institutes need people who think out of the box and Weeraratne could just be the person who could lift the industry using his skills.
For the record the government has also appointed many directors to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority with the view of boosting the industry. Just days ago Russian Foreign Minister Surgey Lavrov made a visit to Sri Lanka and promised to rope in the islanders to expand bilateral economic engagement and increase bilateral trade between the two nations. Sri Lanka on the other hand will look to Russia to rebuild the infrastructure needed to boost tourism. Russia has also welcomed the growing arrival of its country’s citizens to the island.
However, despite basking in the glory of being the number one tourist destination in the world there is much to do in terms of lifting the flagging fortune of the industry back at home.
Till just months ago hoteliers were struggling to repay business loans. If one took a stroll on the beach in popular tourist hot spots those selling clothes to tourists couldn’t have a turnover of US $ 20 per day. Thousands of hotel workers lost employment due to travel warnings issued by many European nations after the Easter
Tourist arrivals are slowly picking up and its not as bad as that old saying ‘One swallow doesn’t make a summer’. Tourists prefer the beaches and also the hot and humid places with a rich history like Anuradhapura and Pollonnaruwa. There are enough negative stories being reported from Anuradhapura. Entrepreneurs there complain that as many as 26 hotels are on the verge of bankruptcy. These hoteliers need a grace period to repay loans and the need of the hour is for the regime to facilitate this arrangement by speaking to banks.
Tourism in Anuradhapura was badly effected during the war. The city has been re-entered in the tourism map, but needs to be included in tourism promotion activities. The Government can’t afford to neglect any tourist destination in the island at this point of time because of global competition in the industry.
Tourism is the third largest foreign income earner for the islanders; with annual earnings being around US$ 4.4 billion. The decision taken to waive visa fees for citizens from 40 odd countries must be hailed. But the tourism authorities must come up with better facilities for tourists and develop infrastructure like washrooms situated at places used to break journey. There is also a growing need and concerns to ensure that tourists can obtain train tickets to their favourite destinations without having to be at the mercy of those who sell them at black-market rates!