Sri Lanka was once a top destination, now it's almost empty of tourists
Posted on 19/05/2019
More than three weeks ago, multiple coordinated attacks occurred in Sri Lanka, killing almost 250 people and injuring thousands of innocents, some of them foreign tourists. The Islamic State took responsibility for the horrendous suicide bombs deployed at churches and luxury hotels across the country. The attacks shook the whole world, leaving thousands of travelers in shock and fear as Sri Lanka has often been considered as a desirable and safe destination. But after the Easter bombings, not only were lives destroyed but the tourism industry as a whole has been decimated, cutting off an important source of revenue for the country, at least for now.
Sri Lanka was once considered 2019's top travel destination
Dreamy, sandy beaches and the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean attract millions of tourists to Sri Lanka each year, making tourism one of the most important industries in the country. In the 10 years since the end of a nearly three-decade civil war, tourism has bloomed in the tropical country. Lonely Planet even crowned it as the top travel destination of 2019, but the reality is much different now.
The country is already feeling the effects
Tourism supports about 1 million jobs, makes up 5% of the country's gross domestic product and is one of the biggest contributions to the country's fragile economy, CNN reported. In Sri Lanka, tourism is one of the four pillars holding up the economy, and for many it was the only source of income. Even whole villages depend on tourists. Weeks after the attack, the aftermath for tourism is not looking good. Hotel rooms are empty, airplane companies reduced their number of flights to the country, beaches are deserted and hotel reservations have plummeted by 80%, Firstpost reported.
Foreign tourists have fled: hotels, restaurants and beaches are empty
Hikkaduwa is one of the most popular seaside resort towns in Sri Lanka, boasting an over half a mile-long strip of hotels, restaurants and shops lined up along the stunning sandy beach. The area is also famous for surfing and snorkeling and in short, a true tropical paradise any tourist can easily fall in love with. But after April 21st, the seaside town looks more like a ghost town than a vibrant hub for tourists. Firstpost reported that now, only a handful of the almost 30 hotels are open in the town.
The situation has affected the entire country
With only a handful of local tourists, the town and its residents obviously are hit hard by the events. And Hikkaduwa's not the only town facing serious problems, the entire country has been hit by the crisis. Some have even said that this crisis is even worse for tourism than the 26-year-long civil war because then at least it was mostly contained in the northern and eastern parts of the country according to anecdotal reports from the New York Times. Now, some travel agencies have cancelled trips to Sri Lanka even up to April 2020. "There are no bookings: this week, next month, even in October, they have all been cancelled", said one hotel owner in Bentota for Reuters.
Sri Lankan President declared the country safe for tourists last week
Last week, President Sirisena said during an interview with Associated Press that the 99% of the terrorists have been arrested and that the country "is in a safe position right now". He also noted that all of the suspects' weapons and explosives have been seized, so the country is no longer in a fear of a possible new attack. Some emphasize that this incident is not specific to Sri Lanka and that in today's world we face the larger issue of global terrorism, which can happen anytime and anywhere in the world.
UK still advises only essential travel to Sri Lanka
But that might not be enough to get the industry back on its feet as before. The main problem right now are the travel bans issued by dozens of countries. The UK, for instance, still has an active travel ban 'advising against all but essential travel'. Until the travel bans are removed or loosened, the country can't get to work on marketing strategies for attracting tourists. To save the industry from dying out, government is doing everything it can including putting together a relief package of reduced taxes and loans at special rates aimed to help tourism workers.