24% gain in March gives new hope for tourism industry

Despite the immediate blow due to the upheaval in the Kandy District, where hundreds of hotel bookingcancellations sent tremors through the sector, March arrivals showed a healthy 24.1% growth, boosting optimism the country’s tourism industry will record three million arrivals by end 2018.

“For the month of March we had an increase of over 24% in tourist arrivals despite the disturbance we had in Kandy. If we did not have that, we could have gone over 30%. 

This means that Sri Lanka will end this year, if all goes well, with close to three million arrivals, very close to our expectations,” Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga told journalists in Colombo yesterday.

Previously the Government said it was sticking to the 2017’s original target of 2.5 million tourist arrivals for this year as well since the figure could not be achieved.

According to the latest data released by Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) yesterday, tourist arrivals in March rose by 24.1% to 233,382 from 188,076 in the corresponding month of last year.

The total arrivals in the first three months were up 17.1% to 707,924. In February the increase was 19.3% and in January the increase was 12.6%. 

India regained its status as the number one source market in March, up 13% to 27,075arrivals. Traditional strongholds,the United Kingdom followed second with a 56.1 % gain to 19,451, while Germany remained third with arrivals increasing by 60.6% to15,207 by end March. 

Chinese arrivals accounted for 4.8% negative growth year on year to 22,172. In February which marked the Chinese New Year holidays, arrivals were 35,929. France arrivals were up 29.1% to 11,487 arrivals.

In terms of tourist arrivals by region, Europe continued to be the largest source of tourist traffic to Sri Lanka with 53% of the total traffic received in March 2018, while Asia and the Pacific accounted for 38%, America 7%, Middle East 1% and Africa 1%.

Amaratunga said opportunities were bountiful, but it was critical to ensure food security and safety of the individuals and personal belongings of travellerscoming to Sri Lanka.

“We have a very bright future in tourism industry, but it is of paramount importance to ensure these three factors,” he added.

Expressing his disappointment over a recent incident which took place in Negombo, the Minister claimed that the Police had not acted to apprehend the wrongdoers due to political interference. Thereby he called on all stakeholders to ensure safety of all tourists coming to Sri Lanka as these incidents created a bad impression for the entire destination.

He also stressed that the industry should get rid of the ‘seasonal’ concept, noting that all 365 days of the year were favourable for the tourism sector in Sri Lanka. 

Highlighting that the sustainability of the industry was very high,Amaratungainsisted that tourism was a sector that could ensure a steady income to people and generate new employment opportunities.

“We need to focus on increasing income and arrivals. There are many people depending on the tourism industry and it is an important sector for economic development,” he added.

He said the Government had now opened up two internal airports in Ratmalana and Batticaloa for the benefit of travellers, while assuring that steps were being taken to rectify issues and smoothen functionsat Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA).

Tourist arrivals in 2017 hit a record high with the number of foreign visitors rising 3.2% to 2.1 million while revenue also rose by a similar percentage to an all-time peak of $3.63 billion.

By Charumini de Silva

- www.ft.lk

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