Sunrise over Sri Lanka’s Tourism Recovery
Sri Lanka enjoyed spectacular growth in international tourism arrivals from the end of the civil war in 2009 (a year in which tourism arrivals numbered about 450,00 people) until the the terrorist bombings of April 21, 2019. In 2018 there were 2.33 million international tourism arrivals. During the first four months of 2019 tourism growth was healthy. Lonely Planet had declared Sri Lanka to be its destination of the year for 2019. Much of the credit for Sri Lanka’s tourism resurgence over the past ten years is due to the outstanding marketing work of the Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Board which has been supported by Air Sri Lanka and the private sector of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry.
According to Bloombergs (04 July 2019), since the April 21 terrorist attacks there has been a decline in tourism to Sri Lanka. This is an experience shared by many countries which have been subject to major terrorist attacks where tourists have been targeted. The June 2019 arrivals of 63,072 are down by 57% compared to the same period in 2018. Tourism arrivals for the first half of 2019 are 13.4% down on the same period in 2018.
For any country, the recovery of tourism after a major terrorist incident is a daunting challenge. In recent years Turkey, Egypt, Belguim, Indonesia, Tunisia and Kenya are among countries which have had to face a similar challenge.
Sri Lanka has long experience of post-crisis tourism and national recovery. The Civil War (1995-2009) and the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami represent two of the greatest challenges Sri Lankan tourism has overcome. The Sri Lankan government and Tourism industry response to the April bombings and its impact on tourism has been truly impressive. The government immediately tightened security on all tourism related infrastucture. Both the tourism ministry and Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Board developed a recovery marketing plan.
Shortly after the attack the Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Board established an emergency site: https://www.sltda.lk/emergency However, a most impressive initiative has been the the development of a national tourism alliance which involves the Sri Lankan tourism ministry, the Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Board and over 40 private sector firms. They operate under the umbrella of Love Sri Lanka. The website https://www.lovesrilanka.org is full of excellent and frequently updated information for travel industry professionals and consumers alike. The site includes videos of travellers and journalists currently in Sri Lanka discussing their impressions. The site focusses on positive news. Disseminating positive first hand accounts from travellers and independent observers is a proven formula for success in any tourism recovery program. The site does a very good job in addressing safety concerns from travellers and travel industry professionals. To their credit, the Sri Lankans haven’t ducked the hard questions as many countries have done in a similar situation.
Under the Chairmanship of Kishu Gomes, the Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Board is actively marketing Sri Lanka globally while focussing on its top ten source markets. Sri Lanka’s high profile at tourism marketing expos is being maintained and the Sri Lankan industry has actively promoted new product.
The rebuilding of confidence in brand Sri Lanka is helped by the fact that the governments of most of its key surce markets have moderated their government travel advisories. This is international recognition of Sri Lanka’s efforts to address tourism security concerns.
Sri Lanka is certainly working hard to rebuild consumer and travel industry confidence in the safety of the destination. Sri Lanka’s Tourism ministers Mr Ranjith Aluwahire and John Amaratunga have supported global best practice risk, crisis and receovery management ideas and backed them with government money.
Sri Lanka has a long and impressive history of resilience in its tourism sector. The April 2019 terrorist attacks are clearly a setback but the actions taken by Sri Lanka’s tourism industry leaders are all steps in the right direction to achieve a new tourism sunrise for Sri Lanka.
A quick note on Alek Sigley On May 17,2016, ETB Travel News Published an interview I did with Australian travel professional Alek Sigley who has been running tours to North Korea for some years. Alek came across as an idealistic guy who passionately promotes tourism to North Korea. Alek’s brief disappearance and detention in North Korea attracted world headlines and widespread concerm. Along with all of us at ETB Travel News I am delighted to see that Alex is free, well and reunited with his wife and family. Congratulations to the Swedish government who negotiated his release. Hopefully, the North Koreans will have realised they were detaining a person who has only goodwill towards their country and its people.