With the deadly Easter terror attacks still casting a shadow on its economy predominantly dependent on tourism, Sri Lanka on Wednesday showcased itself as a “safe destination” for international travellers by appealing them to continue to descend on the island nation in large numbers.
Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Board (STPB) flaunted the recent notification to issue free tourist visas to Indian nationals among others to attract a greater number of tourists from the neighbouring country, which shares cultural ties with Sri Lanka.
“For a period of six months, citizens belonging to countries like India can visit Sri Lanka without paying any additional fee for the visa. This is one of the steps that we have taken to promote tourism which has been badly disrupted due to Easter attacks. Sri Lanka is absolutely safe now and there is no problem whatsoever,” John Amaratunga, Minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs, told a press conference in Chennai.
Sri Lanka is one of the favourite destinations for Indians, making them the No.1 among foreign nationals visiting the island, but hundreds of people cancelled their bookings in the aftermath of the terror attack that sent a wrong signal.
Admitting that the Easter attacks that killed more than 200 people in April led to a “steep fall” in the arrival of tourists into Sri Lanka, Amaratunga said the country is safe now since all those involved in the blasts have been taken into custody.
The minister also thanked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for visiting Sri Lanka, immediately after beginning his second term in May this year, that sent a positive sign to the rest of the world that the island nation was safe. “It was a very kind gesture on the part of the prime minister which showed the greater synergy between the two countries,” he said.
Sri Lanka, according to Amaratunga, was expecting to rake in USD 5 billion in 2019 by attracting 3 million tourists. However, after the terror attacks, the country is now expecting to make just USD 4 billion by setting a target to receive 2 million tourists. In 2018, the tourist arrivals were 2.3 million resulting in revenue of USD 4.2 billion.
“The attacks left the industry handicapped. We incurred a tremendous loss and we have started recovering only for the past few weeks. I want to assure everyone that Sri Lanka is safe and there is no problem now,” he said.
Amaratunga also gave an assurance that the Emergency imposed in Sri Lanka to “ensure free and fair probe” into the terror attacks will be lifted by the end of August which would further boost the confidence of tourists.
Besides pristine beaches and water sports, STPB is promoting the ‘Ramayana Circuit’ among Indian tourists that take them to places of mythological importance in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan Airlines representative said the firm was operating 53 flights from Tamil Nadu (Chennai, Tiruchirappalli, Madurai and Coimbatore), 14 from Karnataka (Bengaluru) and daily flights to Trivandrum and Kochi.