The religious and communal violence that erupted in Kandy could end up stymying the momentum built up in the tourism industry over the past three months, as signs are emerging that foreign tourists are cancelling their visits to Sri Lanka.
Over 80 tourists have cancelled their bookings made at one of the top three travel companies in Sri Lanka, which could possibly amount to a loss of 800 nights, Mirror Business learns.
This is despite the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) constantly issuing updates on the situation, and working with tourism stakeholders and the police to ensure the safety of tourists in the Central district.
Attempts to reach the top management of most of the leading travel companies and the two apex industry bodies—Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) were unsuccessful, as most were in attendance at ITB Berlin, the largest travel trade show in the world.
Back home, SLTDA Chairman Kavan Ratnayake hit back strongly against individuals and groups inciting religious and ethnic tension.
“This is a wakeup call that shows the significance and the gravity of immature action on the part of those who contributed to this situation. The next time before someone throws a stone, or engages in any kind of road-rage, they should think ten times of the wide-ranging economic consequences of their actions,” he said.
Ratnayake said that the tourism industry is projected to be the leading foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka in two years, and the society should understand the importance of preserving a peaceful environment to sustain the growth of the industry.
“The loss of income affects not only the major hotels, but also the street seller, the tuk-tuk driver, the farmer and the restaurant worker,” he added.
The tourism industry was just getting back into gear after 2017 turned out to be a disappointment with a partial airport closure and a dengue epidemic, which resulted in nearly flat growth.
Relatively moderate growth last December was followed up by double-digit growth in January and February this year from key markets due to the winter season and the Chinese New Year, before the current tension in the major tourism hub of Kandy spurted.
Sparks flew with a roadside brawl over a truck driver thwarting a three-wheeler from overtaking, which resulted in the latter assaulting the truck driver who passed away from the wounds sustained.
The incident escalated into communal violence, with residents of the area fanning flames of religious hatred over the fact that the truck driver was Buddhist and the assailants were Muslim.
Another death of a Muslim resulted in the ensuing chaos.
Foreign media provided wide coverage on the developments, and the US, British, UAE and Australian governments issued travel advisories for their residents visiting Sri Lanka.
However, the national carrier SriLankan Airlines, which flies most of the tourists to Sri Lanka, issued a statement, which said that it has yet to see a massive cancellation trend.
“There could be some cancellations. We are closely monitoring the situation, but so far we are unaffected,” SriLankan said.
A source within the airline yesterday said that it would take a day or two before the airline could state whether cancellations have substantially increased due to the situation.
The unrest would not only result in cancellations by tourists who were set to visit Sri Lanka shortly, but would also discourage potential bookings for the coming months. (Chandeepa Wettasinghe)