SriLankan stops flight to Zurich: Hoteliers, tour operators worried
By Marisa de Silva
SriLankan Airlines has temporarily suspended all flights to Zurich, as flights on this route havebeen incurring heavy financial losses, airline sources say. Tour operators fear that this move would have a negative impact on the in-bound tourist industry, especially after the tsunami, which hit the industry badly. Travel sources complain that Zurich has been one of the oldest European routes of the SriLankan Airlines network. Zurich is also important as it's the gateway to the USA and Canada for Sri Lankans and there is no visa requirement for transiting via Zurich. It's also the natural gateway for Italian tourists to visit Sri Lanka. In addition, tourist traffic from Holland, Austria, Scandinavia, eastern Europe and southern parts of Germany and France use Zurich as an entry point to Sri Lanka.

Foreign tour operators depending on SriLankan Airlines flight to Zurich, have been left in the lurch, Michael Elias, Walker Tours Chief Executive Officer, said. He also said that the credibility of the national carrier would suffer as a well recognised direct flight has suddenly ceased to exist.

Hoteliers are also voicing concern. Jetwing Hotel's Managing Director Hiran Cooray says the suspension of this flight would affect the European tourist market as a non-stop connection is always a preferable option. However, SriLankan Airlines Head of Corporate Communications, Chandana De Silva defending the move said that due to the tsunami and fuel strikes over the past year, the Airline was forced to take temporary measures to minimise their losses.

He said there had been a huge drop in European flights after the tsunami. Pointing to statistics provided by the Tourist Board, he said only about 10,000 tourists had come into the country over the past year. This worked out to about 30-40 passengers a flight, he said.

Explaining that the airline was facing a colossal US$ 8 million loss on the Zurich flight alone, he said it was the Airline network’s biggest loss incurring flight route. Mr. De Silva said following discussions with its partner, Emirates, SriLankan Airlines decided to temporarily suspend this flight until things started picking up.

Meanwhile, the Airline has increased the number of flights to Frankfurt, Germany and Paris to facilitate connecting flights for tourists from Switzerland, he said. Daily code share flights to Zurich via Dubai have also been introduced to maintain connectivity with Switzerland, he said.

He also said that before this move was implemented, SriLankan Airlines had explained its position to local and foreign tour operators. He said they would be keeping a tab on the market and would reassess the situation and consider re-introducing this flight, the moment traffic demand from Switzerland increased.

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