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Sri Lanka’s Tourism industry back on track despite omicron fears

 Sri Lanka is desperate to revive the tourism industry, with a target of making 2022 the “Visit Sri Lanka Year” and generating $10 billion from the sector by 2025.

Successive COVID-19 lockdowns since March 2020 resulted in the tourism sector grinding to a complete halt, depriving thousands of people of their livelihoods. 

Crushed by an economic crisis due to dwindling foreign reserves and mounting foreign debt, January with 82,327 arrivals has proven that Sri Lanka may be on course to meet the target. 

These travelers have arrived in the country mostly from Russia, India, Ukraine, the UK and Germany, despite global fears of over the spread of the new, highly contagious omicron variant.

Sri Lanka was upbeat with signs of a good start in 2022, as arrivals topped the 82,000 mark in January amidst COVID-challenges.

As per provisional data released by the Tourism Ministry a total of 82,327 tourists arrived in January. However, January arrivals could not beat the 89,506 recorded in December – the highest for a month since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020.

Despite a surge in its COVID cases, Russia continues to dominate with 16% as the top tourist source market for Sri Lanka with 13,478 tourists followed by India with 11,751, Ukrainian 7,774, UK 7,442, Germany 5,339 and France 3,616. In addition, tourists were also received from countries such as Poland, Australia, Maldives and Kazakhstan in January.

The first week of January saw 20,544 tourists, but the trend slowed down in the second and third weeks to 18,628 and 16,917 respectively as a result of the spike in global COVID cases. However, the fourth week again showed a sharp increase of arrivals with 26,238.

Sri Lanka revised down the tourist arrivals forecast for 2022 to 1.1 million from an earlier ambitious goal of luring 2.3 million, a move influenced by the surge in ‘Omicron’ variant in major source markets.

Tourism Minister Ranatunga on Sunday said that the spike in COVID cases, particularly in top source markets in Western Europe and India, has slowed down the tourist arrivals, whilst the strict outbound travel restrictions imposed by China and Japan, too, had impacted the numbers. 

Last week, he told the Daily FT that the monthly target of 100,000 to 125,000 arrivals will not be accomplished, noting that the future trend of tourism remains uncertain amidst the evolving nature of the pandemic and other correlated variables such as travel restrictions, vaccination rates and efforts in curtailing the pandemic.

As of yesterday, COVID-19 cases reported globally amounted to 379.63 million in 200 countries with 5.7 million deaths. The US, India and Brazil have seen the highest number of confirmed cases, followed by France, UK, and Russia.

Since mid-2021, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) rolled out promotions in several countries, including Russia, France, Germany and the UK. The inflow of tourists has been boosted by increased connectivity as well by international airlines.

The stakeholders hoped that if the momentum would continue till the first half of the year, the industry would see a faster recovery. Sri Lanka lost over $ 10 billion during the past two years from tourism sector earnings.

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