Colombo: Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has assured hoteliers that the government will give them maximum financial relief to revive the lucrative tourism industry hit by the country’s worst terror attack on Easter Sunday that killed 253 people, including 40 foreigners. The blasts also injured more than 500 people.
Tourism accounts for about five per cent of Sri Lanka’s economy, with India, Britain and China being the main markets. India is the largest source market for Sri Lanka, which received 2.3 million tourists from around the world in 2018. Around 4,50,000 Indian tourists visited Sri Lanka last year and the island nation was expecting the total Indian tourist arrivals to cross one million in 2019.
President Sirisena acknowledged during his meeting Monday with the country’s hoteliers that the tourism and hotel industries were worst hit by the powerful blasts. The bombs tore through three five-star hotels in Colombo: the Cinnamon Grand, the Shangri La and the Kingsbury. Among the dead foreigners, 11 were Indians.
Following the bombings, the US, Britain, Australia, India and Israel warned their nationals against visiting Sri Lanka.
Sirisena has requested Central Bank Governor of Sri Lanka, Indrajit Coomaraswamy to provide ‘maximum financial relief’ immediately to the hoteliers, ‘Sunday Times’ reported Tuesday.
Hotels Association President Sanath Ukwatte said hoteliers had invested large sums of money in the development of the hotels and requested the government to provide a moratorium or waiver on the capital and interest for a period of at least two years.
During the meeting, the hoteliers also asked the government to hire the services of a professional public relations and communications unit to send out one message to the world. President Sirisena also agreed to appoint a Cabinet sub-committee to look into the requirements of the hoteliers, the report said.
The meeting was also attended by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, ministers, ministry officials and members of the industry.
Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera had earlier said that tourism will be the worst affected by the bombings.
“We expect a 30 per cent drop in arrivals and that means a loss of about USD 1.5 billion in foreign exchange,” Samaraweera said, adding that the country could take up to two years to fully recover from the deadly bombings which shattered a decade of peace in the country.
Sri Lanka’s tourism industry faced a difficult time until a decade ago due to the three-decade civil war with the LTTE which claimed at least 1,00,000 lives. However, in the recent years the island nation has emerged as a top tourist destination in Asia.