After the 2019 Easter bombings and the pandemic, Sri Lanka is now
facing its third major crisis: political turmoil and an economic
meltdown that has left the island nation of 22 million with acute
shortages of food, fuel, medicines and gas.
As a primary contributor of foreign exchange, however, the tourism
sector is being prioritized for resources, and industry members are
appealing to international travellers “not to forget Sri Lanka”.
Following a strong Q1 rebound, the South Asian nation’s tourism
sector — which accounts for almost 12% of GDP and is the third-largest
source of foreign exchange after overseas worker remittances and the
garments industry — has taken a huge hit. The Sri Lanka Tourism
Development Authority said inbound tourism arrivals fell by 60% in June,
while domestic tourism has plunged by 90% and hotel occupancy is at a
The political instability appears to have marginally improved,
however. New president Ranil Wickremesinghe was sworn in last week after
then president Gotabaya Rajapaksa fled the country amid mass protests
and resigned soon after. It remains uncertain whether these changes will
satisfy protesters, especially after Wickremesinghe sent troops into a
protest site the day after taking office.
The economic fallout will take much longer to recover, but tourism
players are adamant that travel to Sri Lanka will help significantly,
despite the moral dilemma some visitors may face about travelling to a
country in crisis.
Hashan Cooray, marketing manager of Jetwing Hotels, which has 38 properties across the island, believes that tourists asking how they
could be expected to visit the country when people are suffering is “a
fair point”. However, he insists that foreign tourism will help to
improve the situation as Sri Lanka will have more money to buy essential
imports. “It’s a bit of a catch-22,” he admitted.
“Obviously more foreign tourists contributes more foreign currency to
the economy, and money spent goes directly to people in the
communities. Everyone benefits from tourists coming in. That is why we
have not given up and we will not give up. We need to do something for
our country in its time of need.”
Most Sri Lankans share this ideology, said Cooray, which is why the
sector is prioritized for sourcing diesel and food. He reported that so
far there's been no immediate danger to tourists, and believes there’s
no risk of this as “the people understand the importance of tourism and
that it can help us to recover in the short and long-term.”
Chamindra Goonewardene, sales and marketing director of Resplendent
Ceylon, which has three properties across the country, echoes these
“Tourists will play a crucial role in alleviating the issues that Sri
Lankans have to go through at this present time. Some countries still
have warnings that only essential travel is advised, but we honestly
think that it’s essential that you visit Sri Lanka now,” he said.
Both Cooray and Goonewardene pointed out that while protests were
roiling in the capital Colombo, the Australian cricket team completed a
full test series to packed audiences in the southwest city of Galle, and
were “welcomed with open arms”.
During the last one day international match, the entire stadium
turned out in yellow in support of the Aussies. Goonewardene noted that
“this is symbolic of the fact that foreigners will be welcomed here, and
all Sri Lankans are truly grateful for these visits.”