Dubai: A fortnight ago, Sri Lanka was one of the rising stars of world tourism, anticipating nearly three million visitors in 2019.
Today, it is fighting to rebuild its image after a series of devastating terror attacks that took place on April 21.
Trip cancellations to Sri Lanka currently “far exceed” the number of new bookings, according to the country’s tourism chief, while visits to the capital city of Colombo are expected to drop by as much as 50 per cent.
Sri Lanka is reeling from a series of suicide bombings on April 21, which killed 250 people, including a number of tourists.
According to Sri Lanka’s finance minister, the incident could cost the country up to $1.5 billion in tourism losses, and a drop in visitors of 30 per cent.
This year could end up seeing just two million visitors to the island, Gomes said, down from the previous target of three million visitors, set out at the beginning of the year.
“We believe that at this rate, based on scenario gaming exercises that we’ve done, we will probably reach around two million [this year],” Gomes said.
The official added that a strong statement from the army in the coming days might restore some confidence among tourists.
The attacks targeted a number of luxury hotels, including the five-star Shangri-La Hotel in Colombo.
“Understandably, we’ve had cancellations. But we have also had new bookings,” said Kishu Gomes, chairman of the Sri Lankan Tourism Bureau, speaking at a press conference in Dubai.
“The number of cancellations far exceeds the number of new bookings,” he added.
In total, 42 tourists from 15 different countries died. Three hotels were hit by bombs, which also targeted a number of churches as congregations celebrated Easter Sunday.
Gomes said that Sri Lanka had hired a global public relations agency to try and rebuild its image, and was conducting studies in to comparable attacks in Bali, Paris, and London, and how those cities had rebounded as tourist destinations.
“Based on those examples we’re confident we’ll be able to bounce back,” Gomes said.
Of the three hotels affected by the blasts, two had already reopened, he said.
The Shangri-La is expected to resume trading by June 10.
Speaking to Gulf News, the hotel group’s executive vice-president said that the company still had confidence in Sri Lanka.
“We very much believe in Sri Lanka as a destination,” said John Northen, head of Shangri-La’s Middle East, India, and Indian Ocean’s operations. “Obviously, there are multiple considerations for us right now, and we’re working very closely with the government.”
Northern confirmed that the group, which operates two hotels in Sri Lanka, was reviewing its security procedures in light of the attacks. He declined to provide any further details.