- February welcomes 3,366 tourists, highest recorded in a month post-COVID
- Top markets include Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Germany
- SLAITO Chief says time for the industry to explore new emerging markets
- Industry aims for 700,000 tourists, $ 1 b revenue in 2021
- Believes 2021 summer will be busier following widespread use of vaccines in tourist source markets of SL
The tourism industry yesterday sounded upbeat over signs of a good start in 2021 with arrivals topping the 5,000 mark within just a month of the country’s borders being reopened to international travellers and commercial airlines.
“Looking at the arrival numbers since 21 January, it is very encouraging. We hope this momentum will strengthen further towards the first half of the year,” Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) President Thilak Weerasinghe told the Daily FT.
Latest data released by Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) showed that the country has attracted 5,048 international travellers in just over five weeks since the borders which had been closed for 10 months as a result of COVID-19 were reopened.
Of the total arrivals, 3,366 tourists arrived in February, which is the highest recorded in a month post-COVID, whilst 1,682 travellers visited within 10 days of resuming international tourism in the country at the end of January.
Kazakhstan topped the key source market with 1,231 tourists (36.6%), followed by Ukraine with 845 (25.1%) and Germany with 245 (7.3%), making Europe the largest source region to Sri Lanka with 85.7% of the total traffic received in February.
SLTDA said the increased tourist arrivals from the Central and Eastern European countries were inspired by Ukrainian’s pilot project and the deployment of special flights, and reflects that Kazakhstan and Ukraine have moved into among the top source markets for Sri Lanka.
In mid-February, the Government also lifted the temporary travel ban imposed on travellers originating from the UK. The travel ban was introduced after the new COVID-19 variant emerged in the UK. In February last year there were 207,507 tourists, with the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic seeing the closure of borders in late March 2020. Though incomparable, year-on-year (y-o-y) there has been a decline of 98.8% with 435,941 tourists having visited the country during the first two months of 2020. The sheer scale of the reduced figures highlights the unprecedented health, social and economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Weerasinghe said it was remarkable to attract over 5,000 international travellers, with only nine foreigners confirmed infected for COVID-19.
With traditional markets still lagging behind due to the pandemic, and due to internal regulations, he pointed out that it was time for industry stakeholders to tap into new emerging markets such as Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan.
He was of the view that Indian and Chinese travellers will also start to travel soon to Sri Lanka.
“Tourism Ministry is in the final stages of discussion with the Indian authorities on an air-travel bubble, which will give a boost to the arrival numbers and to the industry. In terms of China, we have only seen that they use Colombo as a transit to go to the Maldives. In time to come, we hope to attract a fraction of that travel group too.”
Despite the slow progress, the industry stakeholders were encouraged with the tourism rebound, noting they are hopeful that it would strengthen further to achieve a target of around 700,000 tourists whilst generating $1 billion by the end of the financial year.
“The industry professionals worked around some numbers for this financial year based on 2018 arrival numbers. According to that, during the Q1 (April to June) we expect an increase of 10%, Q2 (July to September) with more relaxation of regulations 25% and Q3 (October to December) 45%. We are looking at around 600,000 to 700,000 visitors this year with a revenue of $1 billion,” Weerasinghe said.
Post-resumption, tourist arrivals have been capped at 1,500 per day, whilst the industry is of the belief that the 2021 summer season will be busier following widespread use of vaccines in several tourist source markets of Sri Lanka.
He said the tourism industry has also requested for 50,000 COVID-shield doses, which has been allocated by the Health Ministry will be vaccinated to individuals of the sector within the next couple of weeks in batches countrywide.
“We believe with improved confidence and more relaxed regulations post-vaccine; tourist arrivals will continue to rise in the coming months,” Weerasinghe said optimistically.
In addition, Weerasinghe said the tourism industry stakeholders wholly support the promotional campaigns the Government is going to rollout digitally to revive the sector.