By Vishakha Talreja
While Sri Lanka’s tourism industry took a hit in the aftermath of the Sunday Easter bombings in April this year, the tourism industry is well on the way to recovery. This recovery is being led by Indian arrivals which rose by 17 percent in August even though the total tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka dropped by 28 per cent in August as compared to a year ago. In fact, India was the largest source of tourist traffic to Sri Lanka in August 2019. This growth in tourist arrivals has been owing to the fact that travel and hospitality industry went all out to woo Indians post the attacks. Free visa on arrival was introduced for Indians that came into effect from August 1st.
In July national carrier SriLankan Airlines offered enhanced connectivity adding four weekly flights on Delhi-Colombo route and taking the total number to 18 weekly flights between two capital cities. “We have seen growing interest from Indians and hence we added flights to attract more travelers. Besides leisure travelers we have seen interest from MICE segments and also to organize destination weddings,” said Chinthaka Weerasinghe, Manager, Northern India, SriLankan Airlines. The recent numbers for Indian travelers haven’t disappointed. India is an important market for the airline and constitutes almost 24 per cent of the total passengers travelling with SriLankan Airlines on its international network.
Hotels too pitched in with attractive packages to woo back travelers. It was also because of the above reasons that when I had to plan a quick weekend getaway last month, I chose Sri Lanka for my holiday. A three and a half hour direct flight from Delhi to Colombo enjoying the extra leg room and hospitality that Sri Lankan Airlines J class offers, followed by a very smooth immigration at the Colombo Airport ( unlike Thailand where free visa on arrival has resulted in long queues!) reiterated the fact that I had made the right decision. No wonder Indian arrivals have increased despite the many cancellations that the country witnessed post the attacks on hotels and churches.
Overall too the country is on the road to recovery. “We are sold out for Christmas and New Years. Occupancies are below 50 percent right now but for the coming months we are seeing a surge in bookings without having to lower the prices much,” said Sean Flakelar, Country Manager, Aman Sri Lanka. Aman Resorts has two properties in SriLanka - AmanGalla located inside the popular ramparts of Galle Fort and the other- AmanWella in the quaint beach destination Tangalle that is thronged by luxury travelers.
As I sat for the famous Afternoon Hi Tea at AmanGalla’s verandah, I saw many travellers, mostly with family going about enjoying the stroll in bylanes of Galle Fort dotted with cafes and gems stores. Dip in tourism owing to terror attacks, political unrest and natural calamities is witnessed by many cities and countries. Maybe they can take a leaf out of SriLanka’s book to woo back Indians.
(The author is a Delhi-based travel writer. Views expressed are personal.)