Sri Lanka specialist Steppes Travel is calling for airlines to offer more special fares to the island to encourage visitors to return to the country after arrivals plunged last year following terror attacks at Easter that killed more than 250 people, including holidaymakers.
Steppes Product Consultant Clare Burkey said booking queries are returning to pre-April 2019 levels, but she said passenger numbers are still down. “We still have some ground to make up to reach the same passenger numbers travelling pre-April 2019, but we are positive for 2020,” said Burkey.
Tourism arrivals in 2018 were 2.2 million, earning US$4.4 billion, but in 2019 they fell to 1.9 million, according to LoveSriLanka.org, a private sector initiative created to promote the destination after the April 2019 attack.
Clare said airlines could boost arrivals with lower fares. “Flight pricing on Sri Lankan Airlines raised eyebrows over Christmas and New Year, at a time when the tourism upturn was still tentative,” she said. “We still need more special air fares from Sri Lankan Airlines and indirect carriers such as Emirates.”
Director of The Sri Lanka Collection Eleanor Milner said the destination had been helped by the UK travel industry. “The travel trade have been immensely supportive of Sri Lanka since Easter last year,” she said “As soon as the UK travel ban was lifted so many tour operators immediately started supporting Sri Lanka again.”
While the private sector would have liked the Sri Lanka government to do more, it has extended visa on arrival to 45 countries until the end of April and it has committed to an open skies policy.
Infrastructure has been improved with the opening of Jaffna airport, Batticaloa and Ratmalana airports have been enhanced and a new road linking Colombo airport highway and the highway to the south has reduced travel time to the historic town of Galle to just over two hours.
There have also been new hotel openings and major investments at The Viceroy House in Pasyala and Haritha Villa & Spa in Hikkaduwa near Galle. The 26-suite Jetwing Kandy Gallery is due to open early this year.