The highest Chinese tourist arrivals were recorded in January and February during the peak Lunar New Year season
By Nishel Fernando
Sri Lanka is bracing for a slowdown in Chinese tourist arrivals in the peak season as Chinese authorities have ordered travel agencies to suspend domestic and international tours as an attempt contain the coronavirus outbreak that has killed 56 and sickened hundreds to-date.
Bloomberg last week reported that China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism had ordered travel agencies and tourism companies to stop selling tour packages beginning from Friday to contain the outbreak.
However, so far, the suspension is applicable only for package tours and wouldn’t affect Chinese travellers who booked their flights and hotels individually.
In 2018, 55 percent of Chinese travellers chose package tours to travel outside China, according to China Tourism Academy.
Sri Lanka’s Jetwing Travels Tours and Walkers Tours have already seen booking cancellations of Chinese tour groups over the weekend.Speaking to Mirror Business, Jetwing Hotels and Jetwing Travels Chairperson Shiromal Cooray opined that although there would be a slowdown in Chinese travellers to Sri Lanka due to the global ban, this move would help contain the entry of coronavirus to Sri Lanka in order to remain a safe destination for tourists.
China was Sri Lanka’s third largest tourism source market with 167,863 arrivals last year. The highest Chinese tourist arrivals were recorded in January and February during the peak Lunar New Year season.
Sri Lanka attracted 28,039, 23,759 and 23,759 in the months of January, February and March respectively last year.
Chinese tourists are known to be the world’s biggest spenders on luxury goods. In Sri Lanka, they are one of the largest buyers of luxury goods such as gems and jewelleries.
“There were few cancellations which we received on Saturday. There will be more or less no incoming traffic. However, we are yet to get a confirmation from our counterparts in China on the ban reported by media outlets,” JKH Destination Management Sector Chief Operation Officer Nalaka Amartunga told Mirror Business.
However, China Eastern Airlines, which operates weekly flights to Shanghai and Kunming from Colombo connecting 80 percent of destinations in China, is yet to see any significant cancellation in flight bookings.
China Eastern Airlines, Director/ General Manager in Sri Lanka Office, Eustace Silva said flights are operating as usual.
“Before the passengers are boarded, Chinese authorities conduct a complete check. Even the four people who were suspected as virus-infected in Sri Lanka, were tested negative,” he added.
China Eastern along with other Chinese carriers resumed their usual flights to Colombo from last October after suspending flights following a significant drop in Chinese tourist arrivals to the country in the aftermath of Easter Sunday attacks.
Since then, Amartunga noted that tourist arrivals from China somewhat recovered up to January.
“When the flights resumed after November, there was an upward trend in arrivals, although, it’s a drop compared to last year. However, due to low demand, we are forced to offer discounted package prices for Chinese travellers,” he stressed.
As of yesterday, over 2,000 people globally had been infected with the coronavirus and 56 in China were killed by the disease, according to official figures.
The virus has spread from its epicentre Wuhan to other Chinese cities including Beijing and Shanghai, as well as the United States, Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Australia, France and Canada.
The restrictions on China’s outbound tourism market are likely to remain at least until March end as the transmission ability of the virus is getting stronger.