Skift Take

The Western media jumped on a 57 percent drop in arrivals to Sri Lanka in June. That’s only half the story and one that could cause consumers to postpone visits. The destination is actually on the mend.

The Western media, from The New York Times to The Washington Post to The Seattle Times and the Toronto City News, picked up an Associated Press article that jumped on a big figure — a 57 percent drop in international arrivals to Sri Lanka in June, compared with June 2018. The story suggests it was due to the fallout from bombings in the country on Easter.

While the figure is accurate, what the report failed to say is that the number of foreign tourists to Sri Lanka last month — 63,072 — is a 66 percent increase compared with the 37,802 visitors which the country received in May, which indicates it is on the mend.

It also failed to point out that the following governments have either lifted or downgraded their travel advisories to Sri Lanka: Australia, Austria, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, U.K. and, yes, the U.S.

Advisories have a major influence on travel decision not only because of safety concerns but their impact on travel insurance coverage.

Positive Forward Bookings

“All of us are doing well and working hard to rebuild our industry which took a whack as we all know,” Hiran Cooray, chairman of Jetwing Symphony, told Skift.

Forward bookings for July and August for his Jetwing Hotels gives Cooray a reason to be cheerful.

“We expect Jetwing Hotels to do close to 50 percent occupancy in July, and higher in August, as these are two peak holiday months. All tour operators from source markets have started selling Sri Lanka again and with the planned marketing campaign due to begin soon, I believe recovery will be faster than expected,” said Cooray. He was referring to a six-month PR and destination marketing campaign valued at $5.7 million (one billion Sri Lankan rupees) which the country’s Cabinet of Ministers had approved last month.

“Many hoteliers are discounting right now and this is a great time to visit the Island as all tourism experiences are open with less visitors at each of those sites,” added Cooray.

David Kevan, a director at luxury tour operator Chic Locations in the U.K., one of Sri Lanka’s major markets, said the U.K. Foreign Office had “positively revised” the travel advisory to Sri Lanka three weeks ago.

“Bookings are now slowly returning, but summer is generally low season for U.K. arrivals [to Sri Lanka]. I fully expect that by November the island will be back to peak popularity and without the need to discount to stimulate business,” said Kevan.

Another U.K. tour operator, Premier Holidays, said it has clients that are due to travel this summer, the majority of whom were booked before Easter.

“In terms of future bookings although we are confident demand will return for  Sri Lanka,  our experience shows that these things take time. In the meantime, we are actively working with our partners both here and in Sri Lanka to support and promote tourism,” said Debbie Goffin, director, Premier Holidays.

Faster Than Expected

Asia has seen enough crises — terror attacks, military coups, earthquakes, health scares — to know that in the aftermath of a crisis, there will be immediate cancellations, followed by a period of lower visitations, before arrivals start to climb back again. Full recovery depends on factors such as whether the destination isn’t hit again, or how prolonged the crisis is, for example, the SARS crisis, the worst in memory for Asia that hurt the region’s tourism deeply.

But through the disasters, Asia’s tourism has time and again proven it can bounce back. It’s not a question whether it will but when. For Sri Lanka, some observers interviewed by Skift weeks after the Easter bombings had expected a fairly longer period of recovery.

“Some destinations in the Asia-Pacific region have shown to be remarkably resilient, in terms of recovering from political upheaval, natural disasters and terrorist activity. Thailand and Bali come to mind. However, Sri Lanka’s strong tourism growth only goes back 10 years and was just picking up real steam. The country doesn’t have a long, solid history of being exceptionally popular with holidaymakers. I think it will be some time before there is a full recovery, and this assumes that no further attacks will occur,” Michael Evanoff, chairman of Marlborough Hospitality Services in Singapore, said in late April.

Others expected a faster comeback. Thomas Meier, senior vice president operations Asia of Minor Hotels, which operates two Anantara and two Avani resorts in Sri Lanka, told Skift in late April, “We can expect to see a short term drop, but I am confident that tourism will quickly recover. Sri Lanka is a very resilient country and has overcome diverse challenges in the past and still boasts the same fundamental draws—beautiful scenery, incredible culture and fantastic people.

“[The month of May marked] the 10th anniversary of the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka and the country has progressed an immeasurable amount during those years, with tourism being one of the key growth sectors for the nation’s economy. I imagine the economy will temporarily be impacted and there will be a short term dip in tourism arrivals but we are confident that Sri Lanka will recover from this and emerge stronger.”

With a 66 percent increase in arrivals in June, coupled with encouraging levels of forward bookings, It looks like the latter group will be proven right.

Fighting Back

How Sri Lanka’s tourism Industry went into damage control mode should also go into Asia’s textbook on crisis handling. A group of private sector players formed the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance and created a Love Sri Lanka portal, and its related social media feeds. This gave tourists and friends overseas a consolidated feed of information, status reports and advice from credible sources on the ground.

Individually, some tourism businesses went on a marketing overdrive to bring back tourists. The Cinnamon group has created a video showing how people and countries around the world showed their solidarity towards Sri Lanka, ending with messages from international celebrities it has ever hosted in the past to share what they love about the country and urge people to discover it.

Cinnamon claimed that the video, part of the Love Sri Lanka campaign, has gone viral.

Another alliance, comprising Sri Lanka Tourism, Association of Inbound Tour Operators, Hotels Association of Sri Lanka and SriLankan Airlines, has launched attractive packages targeted at the Indian market, Sri Lanka’s number one source. The offers are valid for stays between June 10 and September 30 and are sold through SriLankan Airlines Holidays network in India.


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Tags: asia, crisis management, sri lanka, terror attacks

Photo credit: Sunset in Sri Lanka. Annette 777, Flickr.

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