Sri Lanka Tourism gearing up for good winter

By Natasha Gunaratne

Travel operators and travel associations feel any negative publicity from the international press on Sri Lanka over the past few months will be counterbalanced from the positive exposure over this past week which includes international news organizations that covered the President’s live televised address to Parliament on Tuesday.

Managing Director of Jetwing Hiran Cooray, who is also Chairman-Elect of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), told The Sunday Times FT this past week that there will definitely be an increase in tourist arrivals but the impact of the global recession has to be kept in mind. “We will definitely see an increase and hopefully, we will have a good winter,” he said.

Mr. Cooray added that the industry was eager to market Sri Lanka once the war ended and from June 2009 onwards, the plan is kicking off. “We are just saying that Sri Lanka is a wonderful country and come and visit,” he said. When asked if the industry was aware of any overseas campaigns in key markets to discourage tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka, Mr. Cooray said there have been some incidences in the past but that the publicity Sri Lanka has gotten from the end of the war will counter these acts.

Sector Head of Inbound Travel at John Keells Holdings, Wasantha Leelananda said the industry has always maintained that one of the biggest beneficiaries of peace is tourism. “The prospects for the industry are very bright and we are working closely with our overseas partners to re-launch Sri Lanka,” he said. “The comments received from overseas partners are encouraging and we are getting ready to launch new initiatives.”

Mr. Leelananda said there are no concerns on any negative publicity in the international press. “The message to the world is that there is peace,” he said. “There are challenges ahead that have to be managed but we are confident that the government will address them.” Mr. Leelananda said there will most likely be an increase in the winter bookings but that positive results will be seen over the winter and the course of the coming year.

According to statistics on tourist arrivals from the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), arrivals decreased in the first three months of 2009 compared to the same period the previous year. January 2009 saw a 32.4% decline while February and March 2009 arrivals decreased by 15.7% and 10.5%.

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