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Tour operators hope for Sri Lanka recovery

Sri Lanka wants to fill its beaches with visitors again.
Sri Lanka wants to fill its beaches with visitors again.

German tour operators are hopeful about a recovery in demand for Sri Lanka over the coming months following the end of the state of emergency.

Sri Lanka has officially ended the state of emergency four months after the devastating attacks at Easter that killed more than 250 people, including 40 foreigners, in three churches and three luxury hotels. The security situation on the island is now good again, according to a military spokesman.

The tourism industry is hoping that this will signal the start of a comeback as international travellers gradually regain confidence in the destination. Visitor numbers to the island have plummeted since April, ending several years of spectacular growth. German tourist numbers for example increased by nearly 84% since 2013 to reach 157,000 last year. Total international visitor numbers topped 2.3 million in 2018.

Tour operators in Germany quickly cancelled holidays and tours on Sri Lanka following the terror attacks, with many customers switching instead to destinations such as Thailand, Vietnam and the UAE. But now operators are back again with new offers to try to stimulate a recovery.

"We can already see an initial recovery in demand and are optimistic that things will pick up again soon," said Hannes Schleicher, from specialist Chamäleon Reisen. Similarly, Sabine Braun, Thomas Cook's senior product manager for Asia and the Indian Ocean, commented: "We see a positive trend for the coming winter."

Many tour operators share this view and have expanded their programmes for Sri Lanka again. "We have completely opened our programme again," said Katharina Schirmbeck, TUI's head of Longhaul Sun and Beach. The German market leader has even added eight more hotels on the island and introduced the new TUI Tours trip 'Sri Lanka's wilderness'.  

DER Touristik is also optimistic. "Guests who know the country and the people can hardly wait to go on their trip," said Jörn Krausser. "For us, these guests are often a good indicator of the acceptance of the situation after such terrible incidents." He expects volumes to stabilise at a low level this year. "But we're confident of quickly getting back to the level of 2018," he added.

FTI has also expanded its offering. "We believe in the destination," declared Paul Heimo, Group Head of Destination Indian Ocean. Ury Steinweg, long-serving head of long-haul specialist Gebeco, predicted: "First of all, the situation for departures at short notice will improve, as customers are still hesitating to book a long time in advance."

One measure supporting a comeback is Sri Lanka's decision to suspend visa fees until January for visitors from EU countries. The country had planned to get rid of visas completely for European visitors but had to drop this plan following the Easter attacks.

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