By Cheranka Mendis
Sri Lanka has welcomed 60,989 tourists within the first 16 days of the year and is expecting to end the month with 100,000 arrivals, Economic Development Deputy Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardana said.
Tracked with the online visa arrival scheme, the number, if it reaches 100,000, would be the highest-ever recorded, breaking the previous record of 97,517 in December last year.
In January 2011, a total of 74,197 arrivals have been recorded by the Research Division of Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, while in 2010 the number was 50,757.
During the same period in 2009, arrivals were recorded as 38,468. Abeywardana stated that the country had earned US$ 393,865 within a 16-day period from the online Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) process. From the total arrivals, 21,000 have come with an online visa certificate. The country expects to reach a target of one million arrivals by the end of the year.
The Deputy Minister noted that with the numbers steadily rising on the arrivals front, the country now needed to concentrate on providing the necessary services for the tourists.
The lack of accommodation which has been an issue in the industry in the past will be addressed, with Sri Lanka Tourism encouraging home-stay units islandwide.
“Last week I received a call where a Russian tourist group could not get any rooms in the south. They had to limit their touring to Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura,” he said, adding that with the Southern Expressway now open, tourists to Unawatuna are increasing in large numbers.
There are only about 500 home stay units in the country. Adding to the tourism traffic, domestic tourism is also rising. In 2011, close to two million domestic travellers started exploring the country. The number is expected to rise by another million this year.
“We cannot wait for big hotels to generate rooms for our tourists; it will take time. Instead home stay units are a quick and cost effective method. This would also enable the tourist to get the real Sri Lankan feel, living with the locals and giving them a chance to observe the lifestyle of our people.”
He asserted that it would take Rs. 2 million to Rs. 3 million to renovate property to turn them into home stay units and expressed willingness to support such products by connecting them with banks, etc.
“With tourism booming, more products like the home stay units can be developed. This would take the benefits of tourism to the local community in a much wider manner,” Abeywardana said.
Sri Lanka Tourism Chairman Nalaka Godahewa noted that the revenue earned by the industry in 2011 was expected to touch US$ 800 million. Expectation for 2012 is US$ 1 billion.
Hoping to support the small scale tourism products, the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) and Sri Lanka Professional Conference Exhibition and Events have organised ‘Sancharaka Udawa’ for the second time this year. Set to be held on 31 January at the Ceylon Continental Hotel, the event is likely to be the primus inter pares of the travel and tourism industry.
SLAITO President Nilmin Nanayakkara stated that the event would feature 200 stalls. Being given at a price of only Rs. 6,000, 150 stalls have already been snapped up, he added.
“Like the previous year, we want to give companies and individuals with unique offerings who do not fit into the category of large scale businesses a chance to showcase their products and services within the industry and the public.”
He noted that from the 150 that had been taken up, only 30% were last year’s participants. In 2011 the event featured 105 stalls. ‘Sancharaka Udawa’ will be open till 9 p.m. and various entertainment items including an ‘Angampora’ act will be staged. New safari jeeps and other vehicles brought down for tourism purposes will be showcased as well.