The Easter Sunday serial bomb blasts in Sri Lanka, executed by the Islamic State (ISIS), have dealt a serious blow to the island nation’s efforts to rebuild its image as a tropical paradise. Coming after over a decade since the separatist insurgency was crushed and LTTE annihilated, the terror attacks at luxury hotels and churches have left everyone shell shocked. Over 300 people have died, including 35-plus foreign nationals, and more than 500 injured.
Tourism, on expected lines, is the first economic activity that became a sad casualty of this dastardly act. The tourism industry is the third-largest and fastest-growing source of foreign exchange, after private remittances and textile and garment exports, accounting for almost $4.4 billion, or 4.9 per cent of Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product.
Leading travel publication Lonely Planet had named Sri Lanka the best country to travel in 2019. Sri Lanka welcomed more than 2.3 million visitors in 2018, up by 400 per cent compared to 2009. The island country has become a popular destination for meeting, incentive and conference (MICE) tours especially after introduction of goods and services tax (GST) in India which made organising such events costlier. Sri Lanka also became a preferred destination as floods caused damage in the state of Kerala last August.
India was the single largest source of visitors last year, with 4,25,000, while 2,66,000 came from China and more than 2,54,000 from the UK. However, post the attacks, US, UK, Australia, Japan, China, Canada and South Korea have already issued travel advisories. With state of emergency declared, curfew in Colombo and major tourist spots closed, tourism industry is on a standstill. Indian travel trade bodies have reported at least 40 per cent cancelations. While this is an expected knee-jerk reaction, in the next two weeks, bookings should get normalized. The unfortunate attacks at the start of the peak summer season will certainly impact Sri Lanka’s ability to achieve its target of 1 million visitors from India in 2019.
As a sovereign nation and tourism industry, India has also been a victim of terror attacks. We have survived and bounced back with vigor. Sri Lanka will too. No cowardly act can kill tourism for ever, one of the most vibrant industries in the world bringing together people, cultures, histories and nations, on a path to sustainable progress.
Salaam Sri Lanka. We shall overcome.