Sri Lanka’s political crisis: Tourism industry hit 

Foreign tourists walk at the Peradeniya Royal botanical garden in Kandy. ( Photo: ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)
Foreign tourists walk at the Peradeniya Royal botanical garden in Kandy. ( Photo: ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

The political crisis in Sri Lanka is slowly starting to affect the country’s tourism industry.

According to a Reuters report, the uncertainty, triggered by president Maithripala Sirisena sacking prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and replacing him with Mahinda Rajapaksa, has prompted cancellations by both business and leisure visitors.

“We have cancellations in the region of about 20 per cent,” Chandra Mohotti, a manager at the luxury Galle Face Hotel in the capital city of Colombo, told Reuters. “Normally our hotel would be full. We are offering discounts because of the fear that allocations will not be utilised.”

Tourism makes up for about five per cent of Sri Lanka’s $87-billion economy, and according to Reuters sources, the crisis started just as holidaymakers were deciding where to go.

“The crisis started just when tourists take a decision where to go,” a source at national carrier SriLankan Airlines told Reuters. “(It) has discouraged many of them.”

Business travel has also been hit by the crisis.

“There have been some cancellations and some have shifted to Singapore and Indonesia,” said Sanath Ukwatte, president of the Hotels Association of Sri Lanka.

Harith Perera, president of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators, said he had also seen cancellations in the corporate sector.

“At the moment bookings have slowed down and that is a concern,” he said. “If the current crisis drags on, then the impact will be significant. Cancellations are not only from European tourists but from everywhere.”

Peak season starts from December to March and numerous flight bookings, especially from Europe, have been cancelled, reported Reuters.

Meanwhile, the tourism industry, attempting to shake off concerns regarding recent political development, has kickstarted efforts to increase visitor footfall, and their focus is on young travellers.

“So Sri Lanka is an amplifier brand that supports and engages typical millennial travel exploration,” Vasantha Senanayake, the then-minister of tourism and wildlife, told the media at the end of October. “This is important in view of the statistic that in 2020, half of the travel revenue will be spent by millennials, and Asia is a millennial favourite – so we are committed to making Sri Lanka future-savvy and a vibrantly relevant destination going forward.”