The tourism industry in Sri Lanka was caught unawares on Easter Sunday morning when blasts ripped through churches and hotels, sending the industry back to an era of armed sentries posted around the city and outside. This is the first time that tourists and hotels were a target by terrorists in Sri Lanka. Forty tourists [...]

Business Times

Tourism industry braces for tough times


The tourism industry in Sri Lanka was caught unawares on Easter Sunday morning when blasts ripped through churches and hotels, sending the industry back to an era of armed sentries posted around the city and outside. This is the first time that tourists and hotels were a target by terrorists in Sri Lanka.

Forty tourists were killed while about 14 were unaccounted for by the blasts at the Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and The Kingsbury. Except for the Shangri-La, the other two hotels have resumed normal operations including accepting reservations and banquet facilities.

Authorities and the industry were in discussions to work out a plan to rebuild the image Sri Lanka had gained through a worldwide publicity campaign to tell tourists they can holiday here again.

The publicity campaign will initially be handled by the ad agency JWT; Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) Chairman Kishu Gomes told the Business Times, adding that they would later hire the services of a global advertising company to carry out the campaign. In this respect, the global promotion campaign would take a step back for the moment.

Sri Lanka has been in the news and been remembered in a number of worldwide commemorations held to mark the attacks with iconic buildings including the famous Burj Khalifa highlighting the Sri Lanka flag while the Eiffel Tower turned off its lights.

Sri Lanka will get an opportunity now to ensure support from around the world to revive the tourism industry and in this respect, Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators President Harith Perera, said that they were working out a three month, six month and an extended plan of action.

Cancellations continued to take place while some have shortened their stay and others have even turned back after they heard of the attacks while in transit in Doha.

Cinnamon Grand too had about 15 per cent of cancellations from the bookings for May but interestingly there were other travellers that continued to arrive given the current situation in the country, the Executive Vice President John Keells Sector Head and General Manager for Cinnamon Grand Rohan Karr said.

He noted that the guests continued to show their support evident in that they preferred to continue to stay at the Cinnamon Grand without leaving for other accommodation when asked by the hotel authorities in the aftermath of the blasts. “Terrorists wanted to shut our hopes,” Mr. Karr said but they were not to be deterred since after carrying out the burials, and after attending to the funerals of five of their staff the Cinnamon Grand remained upbeat and continued their operations. “The main aim of the terrorists was to disrupt lives, so we opted to stay open.” Fifteen guests died, eight sustained injuries and nine staff were also injured at the Cinnamon Grand.

Thursday and Friday weddings continued to take place and the events are continuing as scheduled and the hotel is continuing to accept bookings for room reservations while about three of their 14 restaurants will remain open.

Security checks are carried out by the security forces at the main entrance to the hotel with all other entrances closed and further checks will be carried out from Tuesday with a walk-in x-ray machines and bag checking machines, he noted. Additional security has also been posted to all resorts of the John Keells Hotels and they were also working with the local area police to maintain security as well.

Most hotels were to position scanning machines similar to those in use in countries like India and Bangladesh as precautionary measures to overcome any future terrorist attack.

While some hotels like the Taj Samudra, Galadari, The Galle Face and the Hilton hotels were open and they did not accept any bookings and all restaurants remained closed as well as a precautionary measure since Sunday, others like the Best Western and Ramada remained open and said they continued to accept bookings.

In a statement, a Hilton spokesperson said, “Our thoughts are with all those affected by the attacks in Sri Lanka. As always, our priority is the well-being, safety and security of our guests and Team Members and we continue to closely monitor the situation. Anyone with questions regarding a future booking at either of our hotels in Colombo should contact the property directly.”

Hoteliers Association Chairman Sanath Ukwatte said the government would continue to provide security for their tourists and authorities were working with the international security personnel to ensure the bodies lying in the morgue unaccounted for could be ascertained through DNA samples.

Tourists are continuing to receive treatment in government and private hospitals at present.

Hoteliers are working together with their resort hotels to ensure they upgrade security and act more proactively, Mr. Ukwatte said.

The PR strategy needs to be worked out and plans are worked out to ensure that with a whole world sympathising with the country the industry wants to build up on this support to welcome people to visit Sri Lanka as a show of solidarity, the industry pointed out.

Meanwhile, another requirement was for the airport to provide less inconvenience to travellers and another concern was those staying in informal accommodation units who might be unaware of the current situation.

In this respect, the government needs to be in touch with these tourists as well to ensure their safety and security.

The industry expects a dip for the next three months which was likely to extend further as well.

In the meantime, in the East most have witnessed a large number of tourists leaving the area in the wake of the attacks that also struck a Christian church in Batticaloa.

Meanwhile, the biggest event this year is the UN-supported International Wildlife Conference CITIES, and the Director General of its Secretariat in Colombo Trevine Gomez told the Business Times that all plans are scheduled to get the conference underway in end May but under the current situation they were in touch with the UN officials in Geneva to ascertain the security concerns as some of the delegates were from countries that had already issued travel warnings to Sri Lanka.

A number of countries like the US, UK, China, Canada, Spain, Israel and Australia issued travel advisories informing their citizens of precautions to take and giving details of the situation in Sri Lanka.

City Hoteliers President M. Shanthikumar said that they would also be discussing concerns of the proposed ban of the burqa and take a decision on that matter accordingly. The government has raised concerns about the donning of the burqa that is said to cause security concerns among the public.

He noted that the current 15-20 per cent occupancy in city hotels are all gone and that a significant amount of cancellations have happened already with a lot of functions getting cancelled or postponed. “We have experienced this situation during the war and we will come back,” he said adding that the need of the hour is to be vigilant.

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