By Nishel Fernando
Sri Lanka’s tourism industry stakeholders yesterday expressed concerns over the possibility of prospective tourists who would have visited Sri Lanka turning to other alternative destinations due to the prolonged political crisis, as tourist bookings for the crucial winter season are already showing a slowdown.
Speaking to Mirror Business, key tourism industry stakeholders said that the current political crisis, which was triggered on October 26 with the ousting of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has led to a slowdown in future tourist bookings, particularly with the issuance of soft travel advisories by several countries such as the Unites States, United Kingdom and Australia.
However, despite these developments only a few cancellations of tourist bookings have been recorded to-date, while most of the cancellations have been from India—particularly South Indian tourists.
Jetwing Hotels and Jetwing Travels Chairperson Shiromal Cooray said there might have been as much as 20 percent slowdown in tourist booking for Jetwing for the crucial winter period.
“More than the cancellations, what is worrying us are the future bookings, which have been rather slow. This is the crucial period where most tourists from Europe and North America complete their bookings for the upcoming winter period beyond December,” she said.
Her observations were echoed by The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President Sanath Ukwatte and the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) Vice-President Nalin Jayasundera.
“In general, there has been a slowdown in future bookings. We cannot estimate by how much at the moment. The travel advisories and what’s happening in Parliament will have a negative impact, there’s no doubt about that. We are very hopeful that this issue will be resolved in the most democratic way as soon as possible, at the earliest,” Ukwatte said.
Jayasundera warned that if the current situation persists, there is a possibility of potential tourists who would have visited Sri Lanka, choosing alternative destinations.
December is considered to be the peak for Sri Lanka’s tourism. Sri Lanka attracted over 244,000 tourists last December while from December to March on average Sri Lanka receives above 230,000 tourists per month.
Quoting Tamil Nadu Tour Travel and Hospitality Association, The Times of India recently reported that one-third of the travellers or 2,000 out of 6, 000 tourists from Tamil Nadu had cancelled their October trips to Sri Lanka.
Moreover, the media outlet reported that prospective Tamil Nadu tourists, largely travelling in groups to Sri Lanka are exploring other alternative destinations.
“Indians are more concerned, specially the South Indians. Even Europeans have been inquiring a lot. There’s a general concern,” Cooray stressed.
Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka last month increased only by a marginal 0.5 percent year-on-year (YoY) to 153, 123 with arrivals from several key regions declining, recording the slowest growth rate for the year, despite Sri Lanka being ranked as the top country to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet.
Cooray and Jayasundera also expressed concerns on the implementations of the tourism promotion campaigns, as the country doesn’t have a functioning tourism minister.
“Our concern is about the current instability becoming an obstacle to go ahead with planned promotional activities, which will have a further impact towards future bookings. Everything has come to a standstill. There is no tourism minister functioning at the moment,” Jayasundera said.
Sri Lanka earlier this month launched the new tourism brand identity ‘So Sri Lanka’ at the World Travel Mart (WTM) in London.
However, Jayasundera stressed that an advanced marketing campaign must be in place to convey the “out-of-the-box” new tourism brand identity.
He also pointed out that Sri Lanka is missing out an opportunity to capitalise its ranking by the Lonely Planet to attract more tourists to the island nation.
“We have been nominated as the best destination to visit by Lonely Planet, which is a major endorsement. We could have capitalised a lot on that, if things were stable in the country,” he said.
The earlier administration of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) planned a US$ 350,000 advertising campaign on affiliated media of Lonely Planet, to capitalise Sri Lanka’s ranking.
However, Ukwatte was hopeful that all planned tourism promotional campaigns would be implemented on time despite the status of the tourism ministry.
“We have planned to commence the global promotional campaign in three months time. So it’s very much on target. The tourism industry is a private sector-driven industry; we don’t rely too much on the government. The SLTPB is functioning. Most of the promotional campaigns have been planned ahead,” he said.
Sri Lanka attracted little over 1.88 million tourists for the first 10 months of this year, up 10.6 percent year-on-year (YoY). Although tourism authorities were originally targeting to attract 3 million tourists this year, it is likely that Sri Lanka would end 2018 short of 2.5 million tourists.
Tourist arrivals in 2017 hit an all-time high of 2.11 million, which represented a 3.2 percent growth YoY. Tourism revenues rose by a similar percentage to an all-time peak of US$3.63 billion.
According to the provisional data released by the Central Bank, earnings from tourism during the first eight months of 2018 rose 12.5 percent YoY to US $ 2.93 billion.
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