Tourism industry closes ‘crisis year’ 2019 with less than 1.9 m arrivals

Wednesday, 1 January 2020 00:35 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Charumini de Silva

Sri Lanka tourism has ended the “crisis year” of 2019 below the revised target of 1.9 million arrivals – an achievement that failed to match several revised targets, yet still commendable following the Easter Sunday tragedy. 

“We expect the final full year arrivals figure to be between 1.7 million and 1.8 million or close to 1.9 million,” Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando told the Daily FT yesterday.

A provisional figure on arrivals on the last day of 2019 from the Immigration Department is awaited by Sri Lanka Tourism. Last year Sri Lanka attracted 2.3 million tourists, up by 10% from 2017.

As per the first 11 months data, tourist arrivals were 1.67 million, down by 19.6%. In November the figure was down 9.5% to 176,984.

Industry analysts said tourism sector’s struggle persists; hence continuous support was critical for full recovery. 

Sri Lanka originally targeted 2.5 million tourist arrivals for 2019, but the SLTDA revised it in August post-Easter Sunday terror attacks, stating that it hoped to get around 2 – 2.1 million tourists, reflecting a 10% decline over 2018. The SLTDA subsequently revised the annual projection again to 1.9 million.

Following the Easter attacks, tourist arrivals slumped by 70.8% to a record low of 37,802 in May. Subsequent months saw arrivals dip between 57% and 28% in comparison with 2018 levels but recovered in October and November.

Industry analysts pointed out that the lack of damage control by the Government post-Easter Sunday, contradicting statements by political leaders and the inability to pull off a proper recovery promotional campaign impacted a stronger revival.

Given the drop in arrivals, the tourism industry will miss its foreign exchange target of $ 3.5 billion in 2019 as well. Deep discounts offered post Easter Sunday tragedy was another contributing factor. In 2018, the industry earned $ 4.3 billion. 

Though chasing growth, officials took comfort in the fact that the pace of decline has waned.

However, the industry has been critical of the delay in launching an aggressive public relations and marketing campaign in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks.

In April, soon after Easter Sunday, tourism officials estimated a $ 1.5 billion revenue loss this year, while projecting a 30% drop in arrivals.