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Decline in Sri Lanka’s Tourism after Multiple Suicide Bombings

Sri Lanka’s $4.4 billion tourism industry is reeling from cancellations as travelers shun the sun and sand Indian Ocean island after multiple suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people two weeks ago

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Empty sunbathing chairs are seen on a beach near hotels in a tourist area in Bentota, Sri Lanka, May 2, 2019. Net hotel bookings dropped 186% after the Easter attacks compared to a year earlier. VOA

Sri Lanka’s $4.4 billion tourism industry is reeling from cancellations as travelers shun the sun and sand Indian Ocean island after multiple suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people two weeks ago.

Suspected suicide bombers from little-known Islamic groups in Sri Lanka attacked churches and luxury hotels in the country on Easter, killing worshippers, tourists and their families. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Tourism, which accounts for 5% of the country’s gross domestic product, has suffered as tourists from around the world canceled hotel and flight bookings fearing more attacks.

“It’s a big blow to the economy, as well as the tourism industry,” Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said in an interview Saturday. “For the economy to develop, it’s important tourism returns to where it was before the attacks.”

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Sri Lanka’s President Maithripala Sirisena speaks during an interview with Reuters at his residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 4, 2019. VOA

Bookings down 186%

Net hotel bookings dropped a staggering 186% on average over the week following the attacks compared to the same period last year, data from travel consultancy ForwardKeys showed. A decline of more than 100% indicates more cancellations than bookings.

Cancellation rates at hotels across the country averaged 70% as of Saturday, with the capital Colombo taking a bigger hit, Sri Lanka’s Tourism Bureau Chairman Kishu Gomes told Reuters. “Some airlines have also discontinued frequency of flights. Load factor is much lower than it used to be,” Gomes said. “It is a worrying factor for sure.”

Tourism took off in Sri Lanka, which boasts of a 1,600km (1,000 mile) coastline, following the end of the decades-long civil war with Tamil separatists in 2009. It was Sri Lanka’s third largest and fastest growing source of foreign currency last year.

Decisive policy and security measures will be important to revive the industry and support economic growth, the International Monetary Fund has said.

Losses are mounting

For now, businesses from luxury hotels to beach shacks are facing mounting losses. In Bentota, one of a string of beach resorts south of Colombo, occupancy rates have plummeted, according to interviews with hotel managers.

sri lanka tourism
Samanmali Colonne, 51, poses for a photograph inside the Warahena Beach hotel in Bentota, Sri Lanka, May 2, 2019. She said all of her bookings canceled after the Easter bombings. VOA

Samanmali Collone, 54, runs the seven-room Warahena Beach Hotel in Bentota, where rooms cost 10,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($56) per night. Her hotel had been fully booked for the day when Reuters visited Thursday, but when news of the bombings on Easter emerged, all of her guests canceled.

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“There are no bookings: this week, next month, even in October, they have all canceled,” she said, speaking in her deserted beachside restaurant where waiters polished glasses and re-arranged tables, but without any sign of any guests arriving.

Collone said if bookings do not pick up soon, she will have to let go some of her 16 staff. “We have had issues before but this is completely different,” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

Sri Lanka is in a Safe Position Right Now for Tourists, Says President Maithripala Sirisena

"Our intelligence divisions have identified how many terrorists are there and 99% of them have been arrested. One or two may have been left and they too will be arrested,'' he said

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Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena smiles during an interview with the Associated Press at his residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. VOA

Sri Lanka’s president says “99%” of the remaining suspects in the Easter attacks on churches and hotels have been arrested and their explosive materials seized, and it is safe for tourists to return to the Indian Ocean island nation.

“The country is in a safe position right now for tourists,” President Maithripala Sirisena said in an interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. “Our intelligence divisions have identified how many terrorists are there and 99% of them have been arrested. One or two may have been left and they too will be arrested,” he said.

Sirisena spoke hours after an interim report was submitted by a committee his office formed to examine why Sri Lankan security forces did not heed Indian intelligence information ahead of the attacks that killed more than 250 people.

Sirisena declined to discuss the report but said that “heads of security divisions have failed to take appropriate measures and failed to inform me, too.” The president also said “all” of the suspects’ explosives, weapons, safe houses and training centers had been found in the 16 days since the blasts rocked the island off India’s southern tip.

sri lanka, tourists
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena speaks during an interview with the Associated Press at his residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. VOA

Acting police chief C.D. Wickramaratne said in a statement Monday that authorities had also seized improvised explosive devices and hundreds of swords, $140,000 in cash in bank accounts and $40 million in assets including land, houses, vehicles and jewelry connected to the suspects.

Those things weren’t discovered earlier because of “weaknesses” in Sri Lanka’s intelligence divisions, Sirisena said. Officials say the coordinated suicide bombings on Easter morning were carried out by Sri Lankan militants targeting churches full of people and luxury hotels in the capital, Colombo.

Since Sri Lanka’s civil war ended a decade ago, the country has built a vast tourism sector that draws tourists to its beaches, wildlife and ancient temples. The dead included dozens of foreigners. Sirisena was out of the country on a private trip to Singapore on the day of the attacks. Upon his return, he demanded the resignation of his defense secretary and chief of police.

Sirisena said Tuesday that the violence wasn’t a problem specific to Sri Lanka, instead ascribing it to “global terrorism.” He said countries fighting international terrorism had voluntarily sent intelligence experts to the island who are collaborating with local intelligence units. Police say two previously little-known radical Islamist groups — National Towheed Jamaat and Jammiyathul Millathu Ibrahim — conspired in the attacks.

Officials say Zahran Hashim, a vitriolic preacher from the country’s east, may have led the attackers and was one of the nine suicide bombers to die. Two days after the bombings, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility and later released a video of Hashim and other men pledging their loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Later, al-Baghdad praised the attackers in a video that was his first public appearance in nearly five years.

sri lanka, tourists
Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena smiles as he leaves after an interview with the Associated Press at his residence in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, May 7, 2019. VOA

Sirisena’s enmity with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet and a lack of communication between the two leaders is also considered a key factor in the breakdown of intelligence sharing ahead of the attacks.

Sirisena “is a big failure, but others also should have made up for it. The others have also looked at their interest above the country,” said Chandra Jayaratna, a social activist and the former head of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. Sirisena, who was health minister under former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, quit that government and teamed up with Wickremesinghe to defeat Rajapaksa in the 2015 presidential election.

However, the two leaders fell out and their rivalry became public last October when Sirisena suddenly sacked Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapaksa as prime minister. The crisis brought the country to a standstill for seven weeks and was only resolved after a court ordered Sirisena to reinstate Wickremesinghe. A presidential election is due by the end of the year and both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe are widely expected to run.

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Sirisena has previously said the intelligence services were weakened by Wickremesinghe and his ministers who insisted that intelligence and security personnel accused of human rights violations during the civil war be investigated in line with a pledge to the United Nations’ human rights council.

During and immediately after the 26-year conflict between rebels from the ethnic minority Tamil community and the Sinhalese-majority government, intelligence officials were accused of involvement in the abduction, assault and disappearance of critics, journalists and other civilians. Rajapaksa was the country’s leader at the time. (VOA)