By:Staff WriterColombo (LNW): Sri Lanka expects to host 1.55 million visitors and earn 2.7 billion Sri Lankan rupees ($8.4 million) in much-needed tourism revenue this year, as it maps a road to the recovery of its tourism sector amid its worst economic crisis in decades.
This is up from the 720,000 tourists it welcomed in 2022, but still below the record 2.3 million visitors that flocked to the country in 2018, Padma Siriwardana, managing director of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau said on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
The sector is on target to achieve its annual goal after receiving 450,000 visitors this year to the end of April, she said.
“We are back on track for recovery. We are coming out stronger because our industry is very resilient,” Ms Siriwardana said.
The recovery comes after the country’s tourism sector suffered several setbacks: the Easter attacks in 2019, the two-year Covid-19 pandemic and widespread street protests in 2022 in response to an unprecedented economic crisis that led to severe shortages of food, medicine, fuel, cooking gas and electricity.
Sri Lanka’s economy contracted by 8.7 per cent in 2022 and is forecast to shrink by another 3 per cent this year.
Inflation hit an average of 46.4 per cent in 2022, affecting mostly the poor and vulnerable, but is expected to come down to 28.5 per cent this year, the International Monetary Fund said.
Underpinning recovery in the tourism sector are Sri Lanka’s efforts to promote “niche” offerings to attract high-spending visitors from countries such as Japan, Ms Siriwardana said.
Beckoning tourists to the island are marine explorations to discover more than 100 shipwrecks along its coast, a 22-day hike through the mountains on its Pekoe Trail and wellness programmes.
“The post-Covid traveller is into new experiences,” she said. “We started a campaign targeting our main wellness markets, France and Germany, to promote authentic Sri Lankan wellness.”
In March, the IMF approved a $3 billion bailout loan to help the island nation of 22 million people to restructure its debt and address its crisis-hit economy.
Asked if the tourism industry will be one of the beneficiaries of the incoming funds, Ms Siriwardana said: “Part of it will be for the tourism industry. Some of the donors have committed to giving more funds for tourism investment.”
While the tourism board has sufficient funds to launch international promotional campaigns, it had difficulty last year with marketing spend abroad due to the country’s foreign currency shortage, but “now it’s definitely getting better”, she said.