A police officer inspects the explosion area at Shangri-La hotel in Colombo
- Guests at attacked hotels in Colombo transferred to other hotels
- Tourism Ministry and industry stakeholders discuss integrated response
- Say premature to measure impact on tourism industry
- Urge stern action against culprits behind attacks
- Sri Lanka targets 3mn tourists and US $ 5bn income from tourism this year
By Nishel Fernando and Shabiya Ali Ahlam
Sri Lanka yesterday beefed up security in tourist hotels in Colombo and major cities, following the series of explosions carried out targeting hotels and churches in the country on Easter Sunday, which is expected to adversely impact the country’s booming tourism industry.
According to media reports, at least 25 foreign nationals were among the over 200 people killed in eight explosions.
In Colombo, explosions were reported in five-star hotels The Kingsbury, Shangri-La Colombo and Cinnamon Grand during the Easter brunch.
“The security has been beefed up covering all tourist hotels in and around Colombo and key cities. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) and commanders of the three forces have advised their respective teams on the security measures,” Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) and Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), Kishu Gomes told Mirror Business.
The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President Sanath Ukwatte and Jetwing Chairperson Shiromal Cooray said that all hotels have taken maximum precautions to safeguards the guests, the staff and hotel properties following the blasts.
“Each hotel has their own security division, so we are basically controlling the movement of people in and out of the hotels now. We believe that’s the best way of containing the situation. The police are providing us overall protection and information,” Ukwatte said.
Gomes also said the government has activated a dedicated hotline 1912 to assist tourists who are currently in Sri Lanka.
“We have activated the hotline 1912 for any tourist or tourist hotels that need specific assistance. We will take case by case and see what can be done to assist them.”
He noted that the three hotels affected had low occupancy rates of around 50 percent at the time of these attacks, hence the casualties were limited.
The management of the three hotels have also taken steps to transfer guests to other hotels following the attacks.
“Obviously, most guests wouldn’t want to stay in these hotels. Hence the hotels have made arrangements to transfer them to other hotels. In respect of that, we have informed the three hotels to take care of the transfers and if there are any issues, we will pick up the costs,” Gomes stressed.
In addition, he said that the government has extended necessary support for the injured tourists to get treated at private hospitals.
Meanwhile, Tourism Development, Wildlife & Christian Religious Affairs Ministry convened an urgent meeting last evening with tourism industry stakeholders to discuss the details of an integrated response plan to mitigate the impact of these attacks on the country’s tourism sector.
The incidents are widely expected to hinder Sri Lanka’s targets to achieve three million tourist arrivals and US $5 billion income from tourism this year.
The tourist arrivals which stood at less than half a million in 2008, exceeded 2.3 million last year following the end of the civil war in 2009.
“It’s not good news for Sri Lanka at all, and it will have negative consequences. We will however try our best to address the concerns in order to keep the momentum going for Sri Lanka tourism,” Gomes stressed.
Meanwhile, tourism industry leaders urged law enforcement agencies to take stern action against the culprits who carried out these barbaric attacks to endanger the security of citizens and tourists.
“This is an attack made to cripple the county’s economy and to create panic. The tourism industry, in particular the hotel sector is a major driver of the economy and this has been planned to disrupt the country’s growth and the economy.
“While we condemn theses type of barbaric attacks, we hope that law enforcement agencies will investigate and take solid action against the culprits,” Ukwatte said.
He pointed out that the law enforcement agencies could utilise security footage of the attacked hotels to indentify the culprits.
Commenting on the impact of the incident on the tourism industry, former Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) Chairman Nilmin Nanayakkara said the impact will solely depend on continuation of such attacks in the future.
“There will be some negative setback. Hence it’s very difficult to assess the impact of such a case at the outset. Past experience is that anything ad-hoc doesn’t have a major impact. If things continue to happen, it might get precarious. Obviously any incident has an impact, but the magnitude of the impact depends of the continuity or weather if it is an ad-hoc one,” he elaborated.
THASL Vice President Shanti Kumar said that the tourism industry would be the most affected segment due to these attacks. However, he said that it’s premature to comment on the exact impact of these attacks.
Tourism Minister condemns attacks
Tourism, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga condemned yesterday’s attacks, while expressing his condolences to the families of those who perished in the terror unleashed on Easter morning.
The minister said that so many innocent people worshipping in three churches on this holiest day in the Christian calendar have fallen victim to these barbaric acts.
“I wish all those injured in these attacks a speedy recovery,” Amaratunga said. “I condemn in the strongest possible terms these barbaric acts which have destroyed entire families and the peace that prevailed in this country during the past decade.”
“Innocent people including tourists have been targeted in this senseless slaughter carried out by a well-organised group, the minister said.
“According to information, nine tourists have died in the attacks on three hotels,” Amaratunga said.
He added that the government has already made necessary arrangements to provide medical care to all those injured.
“I wish to assure that the government has taken every possible measure to ensure the safety of the public, especially tourists who are in the country at this time.”
The relevant authorities on the directions of the President and Prime Minister have launched a comprehensive investigation to identify and apprehend those behind these attacks.
Minister Amaratunga requests the Christian community to stay calm during this very difficult time and pray for all those who have been affected by the attacks.