Sri Lanka expects visitor numbers to plunge 25% following terrorist attacks

Exclusive: The country expects 2 million visitors in 2019, a significant drop from 2018, Sri Lanka's tourism promotion bureau says

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Sri Lanka is forecasting a 25 per cent decline in the number of visitors in 2019 compared to last year due to the Easter Sunday attacks that killed more than 250 people, but expects tourism to rebound as the military intensifies security efforts.

"The drop is inevitable but it will be short-term," Kishu Gomes, chairman of Sri Lanka tourism promotion bureau, told The National. "We should bounce back again."

The country expects around 2 million visitors this year, down from 2.33 million in 2018, he said. It’s original target for 2019 was 2.5 million visitors.

Sri Lanka's economy is forecast to expand 3.5 per cent this year, up from 3.2 per cent in 2018, according to the International Monetary Fund. The island nation, declared by Lonely Planet as the top tourist destination for 2019, was expecting reap $5 billion in foreign exchange.

Mr Gomes expects a decline of 50 per cent in visitors over the next three months in the capital Colombo and 30 per cent in the hill-station areas, but is hopeful for a rebound by the end of the year.

The hospitality and tourism industry is becoming more vigilant. It is heightening security, introducing more surveillance measures and using explosives-detecting equipment while hotel staff has received intensive security training from the army, he said. Meanwhile, the military has intensified security in hotels and areas popular with tourists.

Tourism contributes $4.5bn to the country’s GDP of $83 bn and is the third largest contributor to GDP, employing about 700,000 people in direct and indirect jobs, he said.

Sri Lanka is planning to woo tourists in the ways it has always enticed travellers: adventure tourism, business travel for meetings and exhibitions, destination weddings and wellness tourism.

It’s top source markets are China and India in terms of number of visitors whereas visitors from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and US are the top spenders, he said.

The strategy is to increase the number of tourists from China, India and Europe.

“We will fully recover by end of the year, I have no doubt about it, and we will work on getting tourists to see that the situation is under control,” he said.

SriLankan Airlines has recorded a 10 per cent drop in forward bookings to the country since the Easter Sunday attacks, Vipula Gunatilleka, the chief executive of the airline told The National. The decline is expected to deepen further but it is too early to quantify, he said.

The airline is reviewing its new routes set under its business plan and expects to defer destinations including Paris, Sydney and Frankfurt due to the current situation, he said.