Will Sri Lanka’s fall benefit God’s Own Country?

Kerala tourism was experiencing a very dull season last year due to the Nipah outbreak and the devastating floods. At the same time, the neighbouring island nation, Sri Lanka has been aggressively marketing its scenic locations and pristine beaches, destinations which Kerala too offers, in the past half a decade or so attracting a good number of visitors there. The cost of visiting Sri Lanka and Kerala is almost the same for a traveller, which also made Sri Lanka a preferred destination for travellers. But, with the recent Easter bombings in the island nation on April 21, that killed 290 people targeting foreigners and churchgoers, the tourism industry is expecting a reverse trend.

“Following the terror attacks in Sri Lanka, we are expecting a tourist inflow to the God’s own country. The Sri Lankan topography, which is very similar to that of Kerala, will surely attract more travellers who are cancelling their trips following the terror strikes, to the state. Those who are interested in Kerala will focus more on Ayurveda and beach retreats. We hope that these tourist arrivals will boost the tourism industry in Kerala,” said Anish Kumar P K, CEO, Travel Planners.

Holidaymakers are  cancelling their trips in the wake of coordinated blasts at churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, the worst violence in Sri Lanka since the end of the civil war a decade ago. Tour operators in India, the biggest source market for visitors to Sri Lanka, are also cancelling trips for clients. The cancellations will hurt Sri Lankan tourism industry that contributes almost 5 per cent to the economy. Data showed a 41 per cent increase in cancellation of departure bookings for Sri Lanka from April 21 to 27.

“Many travellers who were planning for Sri Lanka, are now inquiring for vacations in Kerala, which is a positive development as far as the Kerala tour operators are concerned. But, it is not sure whether those travellers who have cancelled their Sri Lankan trips would opt for Kerala,” said Janeesh Jalal, Joint Secretary, ATTOI.

“Though it has been largely speculated that the tourists who were planning for Sri Lanka will prefer Kerala, it is doubtful that it will come into effect. We can only hope that Kerala tourism will benefit considering the current scenario in Sri Lanka. Kerala is still struggling after the Nipah and flood. The state government need to do extensive campaigns to uplift Kerala tourism. In Sri Lanka, just days after the recent terror strikes, the tourism department has already started extensive aggressive marketing campaigns to revoke tourism in the island nation. Looking at the pace of the aggressive sales promotions, it is sure that Sri Lanka will recover fast,” said Ramesh Nair, Managing Director, Southern Odyssey.

Sreekumara Menon of Chalukya Tours, feels that it is not at all right to think that the tourism in Kerala will benefit from the neighbour’s fall. “I strongly wish that we should not look at such businesses to come in our way,” he said.

Agreeing with Sreekumara Menon, Manu, Secretary of ATTOI also said we should not look at exploiting the bad state of another destination to pep up our businesses. “However, considering the situation of Kerala tourism, there’s not much harm in hoping that the state will get a good number of visitors. There is a good chance to get domestic tourists in the state, who would have planned for a Sri Lankan trip, considering the internal issues there. But, international tourists, who usually plan their vacations much earlier, are unpredictable. There is not much high expectation in international tourist arrivals,” he said.

Analysis by ForwardKeys, which forecasts future travel patterns by analysing over 17 million flight booking transactions a day, reveals that a tidal wave of cancellations has hit Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the Easter Sunday attacks. “In the three days immediately after the bombings, cancellations of existing bookings surged 86.2 per cent whilst new bookings fell away,” said the report. According to ForwardKeys, prior to the Easter Sunday atrocities, Sri Lanka’s tourism industry was showing healthy growth. Flight bookings to Sri Lanka in 2019 (1st Jan to 20th April) were 3.4 per cent up considering the same period in 2018.

Sri Lanka tourist arrivals fall 7.5 per cent in April after bombings. “Based on information available, arrivals are expected to fall 60 per cent in May,” said Kishu Gomes, Chairman, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority. The chairman also said he is expecting arrivals to fall 30 per cent in 2019, and recover within 13 months or sooner. Sri Lanka is expected to lose 1.5 billion US dollars in revenue from tourism in 2019.

The Sri Lanka factor has been much talked about in Kerala since the liquor ban back in 2014. Earlier, political instability in Sri Lanka had made travellers pick Kerala over the island country. In 2014, when Kerala’s foreign tourist arrival was 9.2 lakh, Sri Lanka had about 5 lakh arrivals. In 2016, when Kerala attracted 10.4 lakh foreign tourists, Sri Lanka recorded 20 lakh tourist arrivals. For a tourist, Sri Lanka offers great value for money—one Indian rupee is 2.55 Sri Lankan rupees. Not to mention the beaches, landscape and cuisine that make the island nation a mirror image of God’s own country. Additionally, the hotel accommodations, food, liquor are very cheap compared to that of Kerala and other attractions including the legal gambling was also helping Sri Lankan tourism. Sri Lanka has become a popular destination for meetings and conference tours especially after GST was introduced in India, making such events costlier in the Indian subcontinent. The island nation had also became a preferred tourist destination after floods caused damage in Kerala last August. By marketing the Ramayana circuit, Sri Lanka was aiming at attracting 1 million mark in 2019.