Sri Lanka is aiming to become the best tourist hub in South East Asia and will look to attract more than 2.5 million tourists by 2016, an official said here on Thursday.
The country's new Tourism Minister John Amaratunga who was sworn into Sri Lanka's national government last week, said that Sri Lanka was looking at expanding its tourist arrivals, especially from China and would make the island nation more tourist oriented.
"Firstly, we are trying to open the Mattala Airport and make it more feasible for Chinese planes to land and bring in more chartered planes from China," Amaratunga told Xinhua in an exclusive interview.
Mattala Rajapakse Airport is situated on the country's southern coast of Hambantota and is the country's second-largest international airport.
"We are giving the fullest encouragement to the Chinese government and the Chinese people to come and visit Sri Lanka. And we want to assure and ensure their safety," the minister said.
"There are so many Chinese companies which have come to Sri Lanka. There are a number of Chinese hotels too. And the Chinese traffic to Sri Lanka has increased over the last couple of years."
China has become the biggest source of tourists to Sri Lanka in recent months, and the new government headed by President Maithripala Sirisena is now doing more to attract a larger crowd. Hotels are being prepared with more facilities for tourists and safety of the travelers is also being ensured.
However, Amaratunga said that there was room for further expansion in improving facilities and the government was aiming to do so.
"We have to get more oriented with the Chinese language. We must also have Chinese menus in the smaller places because when tourists arrive here they would not want to be confined only to the five star hotels," he said.
"We are also addressing the safety issue of our tourists as we have received a lot of complaints of harassment, especially in the beach bound areas. We have to control that. This government is very keen to ensure the safety of all our tourists who are arriving in Sri Lanka."
The government which was sworn into power after the ruling United National Party won the parliamentary election last month will also launch fresh advertising campaigns in China this year.
The government has remained firm that China would not be neglected and would continue to remain amongst its "priority markets."
The minister also dismissed recent reports stating that Chinese travelers spent less money in the island nation than western tourists, adding that Chinese travelers were one of the leading sources of foreign exchange in the island nation.
With Sri Lanka's tourism industry once being heavily scarred by civil conflict, the government is now aiming to attract more than 2.5 million tourists by 2016 and is set to launch fresh campaigns in many parts of the world.
"If all our programs go as planned I think we can go well above the 2.5 million mark, as we have mended our ties with the international community," Amaratunga said. (Xinhua)