A few months back, Sri Lanka was named no.1 travel destination for 2019. But all it took was one day’s horrific events to jeopardize everything for the country’s future.
On the 21st of April, 8 bombs struck across 7 different locations around Sri Lanka. It was a sight, we as Sri Lankans hoped never to see again. But terrorism has shown its ugly face once more. As the whole world knows by now, the Easter Sunday terrorists claimed over 250 innocent lives.
The aftermath somehow feels equally horrible. Even as I write this, people are still trying to get over the day’s tragic events. Seeing all the stories out there is making me feel all kinds of messed up. I’m sure its the same for all Sri Lankans right now.
But setting aside the fear and uneasiness, one question I keep asking myself, what will the future look like for Sri Lanka now? It’s a country with a lot of promise and I believe the world had just begun to notice it too. The recent years have shown us that the world has been paying attention to our beaches, our hotels and resorts, and of course, our beautiful scenic mountains. But now, the future of the industry looks uncertain to put it lightly.
Sri Lanka, a victim of terror. But it’s not the only one
Easter Sunday’s attacks certainly struck fear in all of us. Following the bombings, many Sri Lankans including myself chose to stay indoors for fear of their safety. It’s terrifying, sure. But it’s not any different to other countries.
The past few years we’ve seen acts of terrorism threaten countries all over the world including the likes of New Zealand, France, and even the United States. So, this isn’t really an isolated incident in terms of a global perspective.
But perhaps in terms of impact, such incidents hit poor countries harder than it would for developed countries. Particularly for a country that depends on tourism. Last year, tourism was Sri Lanka’s third largest and fastest growing source of foreign currency. It accounted for 4.9% of the GDP in 2018, at almost $4.4 billion. So incidents like these hit a travel-centric country harder than it would others.
Sri Lanka’s economy is already taking hits
A week following the attacks, Sri Lankan Airlines’ chief executive stated that the airlines recorded a 10% increase in cancellations that week. Sri Lanka’s Tourism Bureau Chairman Kishu Gomes predicts tourist arrivals to drop by 50% within the next 2 months. Although DailyFT suggests this number might be as high as 70%.
According to Gomes, the target for 2019 was 2.5 million visitors to the island. Though he is hopeful Sri Lanka will hit 2 million. Current numbers show that Sri Lanka has seen over 740,000 arrivals up to March. How much these figures will vary in the next few months, only time will surely tell.
But the bad press (I’m looking at you BBC) and the travel warnings aren’t helping the island at all. The US and the UK already issued warnings about traveling to Sri Lanka. So that 50% drop in arrivals is more than likely to happen. I hope I’m wrong.
But wait, there’s hope
Truth be told, it’s still too early to tell definitely what the long term implications for tourism would mean for Sri Lanka. True that we’re currently experiencing a decline in the industry. But there’s always the possibility of arrivals returning back to growth. The question is how long that will take.
But we are a resilient nation. We defeated a 30-year war, survived the 2004 Tsunami attacks. We will get through this one too. In fact, less than 2 weeks after the Easter Sunday attack the Cinnamon Grand and The Kingsbury, 2 of the affected hotels from the bombings, resumed operations. If you follow #BackAtCG on Facebook you could even see a few touching short stories of encouragement for the hotel. Now that’s So Sri Lanka.
Following the attacks, the hotels have even taken steps to upgrade its security protocols. Security scanners and checkups are now a common thing when visiting hotels. Of course, it might not seem like the most welcoming sight. But it’s reassuring to know you’re in safe hands.
On the brighter side of things, it certainly helps that the country has been getting quite an outpour of positive vibes and encouragement, from officials, noted personalities, and travelers alike from all over the world. Following the attacks, tourists did not think twice about sharing stories about their Sri Lankan experience.
I mean sure, it might not cause a massive upturn for the tourism industry. But it’s these stories that will carry a lot of weight about our beautiful little island in the Indian Ocean. Stories about the mesmerizing train rides, the lush green Little Adam’s Peak, or the thrilling sandy shores down south, is what makes Sri Lanka a travel destination like no other.
Yes, we’re a country with leaders that constantly fail the people. But its people won’t fail won’t fail the country. So if you’re still wondering if our little island is worth risking a visit for, I leave you with this video.