After the bombing incident earlier this year, many Western media picked up on the dramatic 57 percent drop in international arrivals to Sri Lanka in June, when compared to June 2018. However, although accurate, the reports fail to mention that the number of foreign tourists to the country last month marked an increase of 66 percent since May, from 37,800 visitors to 63,000. These figures indicate that Sri Lanka tourism industry is recovering nicely.
Sri Lanka is not new to damaging conflicts. The 26-year dispute between the Sri Lankan military and the Tamil Tigers, which kept much of the country off limits to visitors and posed an ever-present threat of terrorist attacks. came to an end as recently as 2009. Thousands of civilians were killed and the country’s economy suffered tremendously as a result. However, since the end of that brutal war, the pearl-shaped island’s tourism has been growing by 10% annually. Indeed, just three years after peace returned, tourism revenues surpassed one billion USD for the first time.
As the government brought the country back under control, investors were quick to see the potential in Sri Lanka and new businesses were quickly established. Jetwing was the first luxury hotel group to mark its mark in the former war zone with its boutique luxury hotels. Looking back to how Sri Lanka recovered during the post-war period from 2009, it is today no surprise to investors to see how quickly this highly resilient country has bounced back from its latest setback.
The key to Sri Lanka’s success is the destination itself. This beautiful island located off the southern coast of India is blessed with abundant natural wealth. Whether it’s surfing the waves of the Indian Ocean, sipping tea in the hill country, soaking up the view of Adam’s peak, or diving with whales, Sri Lanka has it all. Its natural resources are almost unsurpassed, as the country is one of the few biodiversity hotspots in the world, the perfect place for nature enthusiasts and animal lovers.
In particular, Sri Lanka makes the ideal alternative to the popular tourism hotspots of South East Asia, with its blend of beaches, hills, jungles, and culture easily matching up to anything on offer in Thailand, Bali, Malaysia or Vietnam. In fact, many frequent travelers to Thailand and other neighboring countries are shifting their summer vacation choice to Sri Lanka. A growing number of Australians are favoring Sri Lanka over the traditional favorites of Bali and Thailand, notes one Sri Lankan tourism operator. According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, the annual growth in the last five years of Australians travelling to Sri Lanka was 10.7 percent.
“Bali and Thailand are a little bit exhausted now and everyone wants new destinations for their holiday,” reported one Sri Lankan travel agent located in Australia. This is clearly reflected in the numbers from the Australian Federation of Travel Agents.
Supporting the growth in tourist numbers, a number of major infrastructure projects have helped to bring some of the more beautiful yet rather remote parts of the country within easy reach of Colombo. Thanks to aid from China, the northern expressway now allows locals and tourists to commute directly from Colombo to Jaffna. During the civil war, Jaffna was strictly out of bounds, along with the breathtaking beaches of the east coast, so today’s visitors have the opportunity to explore an untouched paradise. Meanwhile, the expressway connecting Colombo’s Bandaranaike Airport to the southern city of Galle and the spectacular beaches of the south coast has further opened up the country, slashing journey times and dramatically improving accessibility. With no fewer than eight cultural and natural UNESCO heritage sites scattered around the country, further transport infrastructure improvements are vital to unlock the full tourism potential of the island.
Sri Lanka has also witnessed significant growth in the luxury hotel sector in recent years, with a number of new luxurious hotels opening their doors, including the Teardrop Hotel Group’s hotels high in the tea plantations, and Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle Resort on the south coast. Moreover, these luxurious yet sustainable hotels offer wellness programs, a rising tourism trend among travelers.
The country is famous for its authentic Ayurveda treatments - the natural science indigenous to Sri Lanka focusing on mind-body balance and connections. Resorts such as Anantara facilitate this holistic health approach for their guests, tailoring the selection of herbs and medicines to treat each visitor’s health concerns, and meeting the demand for unique wellness experiences.
Mujahid Mansoor, Director of Communication at Anantara Kalutara, is optimistic that the future is bright. “Sri Lanka is as resilient as it has always been and is recovering very well,” he said. “The travel advisories have been lifted and tourism is returning to the island. We recently had the biggest destination wedding in Anantara Kalutara Resort after the April incidents, where over 450 guests from all over the world flew in to celebrate. We were honored to have hosted the events with the help of multiple partners to ensure we all delivered luxury.”
In terms of security, tourists can now rest assured that the Sri Lankan government has measures in place to prevent further unrest, as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has stated that the country is now safe and its security has returned to normalcy.
Furthermore, Sri Lanka is currently giving one-month visas on arrival free of charge to tourists from nearly 50 countries as part of its efforts to revive tourism after the Easter bomb attacks. Visitors from over 40 countries can apply for a free visa upon arrival while others can apply for an electronic visa, minimizing any inconvenience. With the government continuing to take a proactive role in supporting the tourism sector, investors can feel confident that Sri Lanka will continue to offer excellent opportunities for hoteliers to meet the flourishing demand.