By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
Sri Lanka’s tourism industry has experienced only minimal impact from the recent floods, state and private sectors stated this week, which has led the tourism authorities to maintain their revenue and arrival forecasts for the year.
“We’ve made inquiries from tourist centres. There aren’t any hotels which were affected by the flooding, and there are no reports of any tourists drowning,” Tourism Development and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga said at a press conference yesterday.
He claimed that there was no damage to informal and supplementary sector accommodation units which are now said to be serving nearly 50 percent of tourists through arrangements such as homestays.
The floods have caused the deaths of nearly 200 with nearly 100 more missing, while tens of thousands of homes were affected, along with businesses in the areas.
The four national tourism bodies will contribute Rs.2 million from their budget to provide immediate flood relief to the Kalutara District, which Amaratunga said was the district allocated to his ministry during this crisis.
The main concern for the tourism industry is the alarm with which foreign clients are viewing the situation here, according to Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators Vice President Harith Perera.
“News travelled fast to our principals. They were worried that Sri Lanka was closed, that the whole country was under water, but we were able to convince them that there was no issue for tourism. Ninety-nine percent of our itineraries remain as they are,” he said.
He claimed that the only complaint received by tourists so far was that there was more rain than sun.
Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority and Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau Chairman Paddy Withana said a press release was issued to foreign media and embassies in order to address adverse publicity abroad.
Tourism Development and Christian Affairs Ministry Secretary Janaka Sugathadasa said that the disaster was a blessing in disguise for the tourism sector which escaped with little to no harm, and that it has to get ready for worse disasters in the future during peak seasons.
“This calamity happened in the low season, so it’s a blessing in disguise. But we have to imagine, what if this happened in the high season? The industry needs to be ready for emergencies,” he said.
Given the lack of impact on hotels and tour agents, Sugathadasa said that the US$ 4 billion revenue and 2.5 million arrival targets for the tourism industry for 2017 need not be revised.
When inquired as to whether this is realistic, given that shops and other businesses which catered to tourists and induce tourism spending may be affected, and could take weeks or months to return to normal operations, Amaratunga said that these businessmen are resourceful enough to start operating soon.
Prime Ministerial Advisor Dinesh Weerakkody added that the Central Bank and Public Enterprise Development Minister Kabir Hashim have set up a committee to evaluate economic impacts and the effects on small and medium enterprises due to the floods.