Dubai: Newly-appointed Sri Lankan Consul General Nalinda Wijerathna has assured UAE nationals and residents that it is safe to visit the island country, following a series of bombings that ripped through the country’s capital almost a year ago.
In an exclusive interview with Gulf News on the eve of the country’s 72nd Independence Day, Wijerathna said: “Security situation is back to normal and Sri Lanka is on track to receive tourists from around the world.”
It was on April 19 (Easter Sunday) last year, when a series of coordinated attacks hit several churches and hotels in Colombo on Easter Sunday, killing at least 290 people and injuring hundreds. Authorities called them acts of terror and the country was paralysed in the aftermath.
Wijerathna said Sri Lanka’s tourism industry, which is the third largest contributor the country’s economy, took a major hit following the attacks.
“But it’s now safe for tourists to go back to Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa number one manifesto is security and the country is more peaceful now. The number of tourists visiting our country has picked up beginning in the last quarter of last year,” he underlined.
Wijerathna added that the latest outbreak of coronavirus “has little or no impact in Sri Lanka.” Only one person was actually infected with the deadly virus and the affected woman, a Chinese visitor has recovered completely, according to Sri Lanka’s Infectious Disease Hospital.
Wijerathna noted Sri Lanka receives at least 100,000 tourists from the UAE every year. The industry itself brings around $4.4 billion (Dh16 billion) to the country’s economy.
“Our country is a holiday destination, full of beautiful places, including historic temples, cities, natural parks, bounty beaches, surf bays, mountains, valleys, tea plantations and even whale watching.”
“The country has begun to re-establish itself as a prime tourist destination while a number of international travel magazines and media have recommended Sri Lanka as the best tourist destination,” said Wijerathna.
In terms of trade, Wijerathna said the UAE is the largest export market for Sri Lankan products in the GCC and number seven among Sri Lanka’s export destinations in the world. Trade between the two countries has reached S2 billion (Dh7.34 bilion) and the UAE is the 3rd largest global source of Sri Lankan imports.
The contribution of the UAE in Sri Lanka’s Foreign Direct Investment and tourism sectors is also very significant.
In terms of diplomatic relations, Wijerathna noted that Sri Lanka and the UAE have been enjoying cordial and friendly bilateral relations since the establishment of diplomatic relations and opening of Sri Lanka Embassy in Abu Dhabi in 1979.
“The cordial relations between the two countries are based on mutual trust and understanding, have spread in all the spheres including trade, investment, tourism and economic cooperation,” he pointed out.
Dubai Expo 2020
Meanwhile, Wijerathna, 46, said Sri Lanka is in the midst of preparing for Dubai Expo 2020. The country’s pavilion will have a water theme called “Island of Ingenuity” to showcase Sri Lanka’s pristine water resources.
The new consul general, who took office on January 9 (his 46th birthday), called on his compatriots: “The year 2020 will be a year of opportunity where the international community as well as the Sri Lankan expatriates will get further opportunities to extend their contribution towards the development of Sri Lanka. I kindly request the Sri Lankan community living in the UAE to join hands with us to be a part of the Expo success story.”
- 300,000 – estimated number of Sri Lankan expats in the UAE
- 250,000 – of Sri Lankan expats are based in Dubai and the northern emirates
- 21.4 million – total population of Sri Lanka
Celebrations in Dubai
- The Independence Day in Sri Lanka is celebrated every year on February 4. Sri Lanka gained Independence from the British on February 4, 1948.
- February 4 – flag raising at the Sri Lanka Consulatate General
- February 7 – cultural celebrations at Zabeel Park