Sri Lankan tourism loses momentum through political turbulence

A bitter political feud which led to the sacking of Sri Lanka’s prime minister has turned the clock back for the country’s travel trade just as it was preparing for a better winter season.

The crisis has led to calls from Western governments for parliamentary democracy to be restored while several travel warnings have been issued focusing mainly on European visitors.

Amid multiple political developments – including a Supreme Court decision on Tuesday to suspend a presidential order to dissolve parliament – travel industry officials said some cancellations in hotels had been reported while two conferences were believed to have been postponed.

Sri Lankan tourism loses momentum through political turbulence

Shiromal Cooray, managing director of Jetwing Travels, said there had been some cancellations at the group’s hotels but not on a large scale. “However, because of the crisis we have lost the momentum and don’t see many future bookings. There is a level of unease as to what will happen. The buoyancy in the industry is gone.”

Trevor Rajaratnam, president of the Travel Agents Association of Sri Lanka, said FITs and small families may rethink travel to Sri Lanka due to the confusion, but large group travel is unlikely to be affected.

An official at the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau said November-December is a lean season for conferences while a 10-day tour by 100 Spanish travel agents at end November is still on track.

But she was worried by the travel warnings which leads to either the unavailability of travel insurance or a rise in premiums.

Meanwhile, tourism promotion programmes will run as planned, according to Dushan Wickramasuriya, acting managing director at the state-run Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau.

“We had five travel writers from Germany, the UK and Poland on a fam tour during the crisis period and also a group of seven bloggers. Currently there are seven location managers from the UK scouting for good film location sites here,” he said.

Wickramasuriya added that in the last two weeks four charters from Aeroflot, TUI and Edelweiss brought more than 600 visitors. The bureau and travel industry officials were also participating in upcoming travel fairs in China and Italy.

While TPB and CVB activities seem unaffected, the Sri Lankan administration is at sixes and sevens.

A new tourism minister appointed last week, who led the launch of a new branding campaign at the WTM London, stepped down on Wednesday to cross over to opposition ranks. A new chairman to national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines was appointed on Tuesday only to be replaced the following day, reflecting the confusion in the administration.

Sri Lanka has been rocked by multiple developments after president Maithripala Sirisena sacked prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on October 26, and attempted to suspend parliament and appoint a new prime minister.

Both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe come from opposing political parties but came together in a grand coalition in 2015, a relationship which has soured.

In another development on Wednesday, parliament passed a no confidence motion against new prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, a former president, after Wickremesinghe’s allies triumphed in a vote taken in the legislature, throwing further confusion in the administration.