Dubai: Riding the tourism wave for yet another year, Sri Lanka has recorded an all-time high of 21,16,407 tourist arrivals during 2017. According to Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), the tourist arrivals in 2017 recorded 3.2 per cent growth over the preceding year when numbers crossed two million for the very first time.

The impressive growth has come despite the country’s main airport – Bandaranaike International Airport – suffering partial closure from January to April 2017, leading to a number of airlines scaling down their operations.

India continued to be the top source market with 3,84,628 arrivals, followed by China (2,68,952) and the UK (2,01,879). In 2017, Sri Lanka received a total of 1,07,635 tourists from the Middle East with 6.5 per cent growth, with UAE becoming one of the fastest growing tourism markets in the region.

However, what’s worrying the Sri Lankan authorities is the dip in tourist arrivals from the Middle East in the recent past. In March 2018, tourist arrivals from the Middle East declined 26.6 per cent with the arrival of 3520 visitors compared to the same period in 2017.

“Unfortunately, there occurred a slight decrease in the number of tourist arrivals from the Middle East. Hopefully, the aggressive campaigns we have initiated in the Middle East as part of ATM Dubai 2018 will address the issue,” said John Amaratunga, Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs, Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan delegation to the ATM included Felix Rodrigo, Senior Advisor to the Minister; Charitha Yattogoda, Consul General, Sri Lanka – Dubai & Northern Emirates; Sutheash Balasubramanium, Managing Director, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB); and Ajantha Rathnayake, Assistant Director, SLTDB.

In terms of revenue, the Sri Lankan Government aims to clock $4.4 billion in 2018. The island nation earned a revenue of $3.9 billion in 2017. It has already grown by 17 per cent year-on-year to $1312.9 million in the first quarter of 2018. “Till March, tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka had registered a growth of 24 per cent. Tourism will move from the current third position to become the top foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka. Over 2,30,000 tourists visited the country till March this year, with the government expecting 2.5 million arrivals by the end of 2018,” the Minister said.

“With its distinctive, adventure-packed, eco-friendly, family-focused experiences and offerings, as well as rich cultural heritage, Sri Lanka has much to offer to visitors from UAE,” Sutheash Balasubramanium said. “At ATM, our mission was to reinforce Sri Lanka in the hearts and minds of UAE-based travel partners. We are confident we will see many more visitors from UAE making Sri Lanka their destination of choice in the coming months.”

Since the proposed $600-million expansion plan for Bandaranaike International Airport will not be completed until 2022, the Sri Lankan Government is constructing a pre-fabricated terminal that can handle 3.5 million passengers per annum. The mega expansion project will eventually allow the airport to handle 15 million passengers annually.

Sri Lanka’s hospitality industry will also witness certain key developments in 2018 with the luxury brand Sheraton set to open two new properties, with a hotel in Colombo and the Kosgoda Turtle Beach Resort planned for launch in September this year. The eco-friendly Alila Koggala is due to open this summer.

If things go as per plan, Sri Lanka will kick off $3.5 million digital marketing campaign this year. According to Amaratunga, the evaluation process by SLTPB to award contracts for the digital marketing campaign is in its final phase. The digital campaign, which will run for six months, is targeted at five key tourism source markets of Sri Lanka, including China, India, the UK, Germany and France.