Sri Lanka says tourism ‘picking up’ as European restrictions are eased

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 03 October 2007, 08:07 GMT]
Sri Lanka is confident of achieving its target of attracting 600,000 tourists this year following the relaxation of travel advisories in key markets, tourist board (SLTB) officials were quoted as saying this week. Germany, Britain, France and Netherlands have softened travel restrictions on their citizens, press reports say. However, citing falling tourist arrivals, an international hotels group slashed prices at its hotels in Sri Lanka by 50% until 2008, press reports also said.

Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism in Milinda Moragoda, who crossed over, with 17 others from the main opposition UNP to the ruling SLFP party, in January this year.

The SLTB is confident the winter season will be better than last year's as European countries have lifted and relaxed some of the travel warnings that were in force, lankaBusinessOnline reported this week.

"The French travel advisory has been liberalized now and is more conducive for the French tourists to visit us. The Netherlands have also lifted their travel advisory," Kalaiselvan, director general of SLTB said.

"These are good signs to say that the situation in Sri Lanka is conducive for tourists to visit."

However, the Aman group, which runs five-star properties across Asia, has cut room rates at its two hotels in the island, the UK’s Sunday Times reported.

Announcing the halving of its room rates, Aman said its discount remains valid until September 2008 and was introduced “following a decline in international tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka associated with the impact of civil conflict”.

The SLTB suggest that Aman is exaggerating the effects of the unrest to conceal the fact that its rooms are overpriced, and British tour operators are reporting increasing demand for the island’s tropical beaches.

“Sri Lanka is well on the road to recovery,” says Frances Tuke, of ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). “[Tour operator] First Choice has launched weekly charter flights and arrivals last year were back to 90% of pretsunami levels.”

Sri Lanka remains on a British Foreign Office advisory list that also includes Afghanistan, Colombia, Israel and Iraq.

British High Commissioner Dominick Chilcott was quoted in Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times as also saying the island’s tourism industry suffered a terrible blow after the spate of violence but there are signs that tourist arrivals may be picking up again.

He was quoted as saying the 2007 figures in Sri Lanka are dismal with tourist arrivals down by 24% for the first six months.

"There are signs that things are picking up again. Let's hope so," Mr. Chilcott said.

Sri Lanka’s government last week quoted a French security analysis firm, Securite Sans Frontieres, as saying the island was safe for tourists.

“SSF arrived at this conclusion after an evaluation conducted over a period of 12 days covering various tourism sites, hotel infrastructures, airport and other forms of transport as well as general conditions of security - political, social, health and weather- in Sri Lanka,” the government statement said.

“The in-depth study of the security conditions has permitted us to make specific and detailed technical recommendations,” the statement quoted Frederic Bauer, President of SSF as saying.

“The terrorist risk is not that greater in Sri Lanka than other countries visited by the French.” “ In conclusion, the security situation for us is acceptable for tourism visits to Sri Lanka and I take responsibility for recommending the destination for French Tourists.”



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