Sri Lanka aggressively woos Indian tourists

Himalayan News Service

Colombo, April 11:

As Sri Lanka targets to receive a million tourists, it’s aggressively wooing Indians. Visitors from India have become the largest arrivals in this enchanting island after Britons, even soaring past the Germans. Sri Lanka is slowly but surely moving away from its over-dependence on the European market. And Indians are proving to be good spenders too.

Like his Western counterparts, the Indian tourist - mostly from the middle class and upper middle class - spends up to 10 nights in Sri Lanka and about $75 a day. This is highly appreciated by the tourism industry.

“Indians are becoming an important tourist market for us,” Sri Lanka Tourism director general S Kalaiselvam said, “Many come on packages. But unlike the Western tourist, most Indians come with families. “Most of them like to visit historical and archaeological sites, besides the beaches,” the officer added, “And they love to shop!” Tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka crossed the half a million mark for the first time last year, thanks mainly to the Norwegian-brokered truce between the government and Tamil Tiger guerrillas that has given the country its longest spell of peace since February 2002.

Simultaneously, the government has also taken steps to generate more funds for the tourism industry so as to unleash an aggressive global campaign selling Sri Lanka as an attractive and value-for-money destination. Thanks also to the peace, Sri Lanka’s beautiful beaches along the east coast — otherwise part of the war theatre — have been opened up for tourists.

Britons, Indians and Germans now account for 50 per cent of the tourist arrivals, closely followed by visitors from France, Italy, Japan, Australia and the Scandinavian countries. The tourist target for this year is 600,000 and by 2010 - if the peace continues — Colombo hopes to play host to one million tourists.

A tropical island of remarkable variety, Sri Lanka’s topography varies from the coastal plains with palm fringed sandy beaches to the cool central hills. Besides beaches, the country offers waterfalls, streams, national parks, ancient cities and monuments dating back to the fifth century. There are plenty of Buddhist attractions.

Sri Lankans also pride themselves as a very friendly and hospitable people. But Kalaiselvam says that itself is not enough. The government needs to increase the number of hotel rooms in the country from 14,000 to 25,000, and develop infrastructure like roads.

“We have a public relations company working for us in New Delhi,” Kalaiselvam said, “We have also engaged a Singaporean company to campaign for us in India. The decision of Indian private airlines like Jet and Sahara to fly to Sri Lanka has also helped to increase the tourist arrivals from India.” “But there is much more to be done. One Indian segment we are targeting is the business people. Sri Lanka offers excellent opportunities to Indian companies to hold their meetings and conferences. This has already been recognised. This has to be developed much more,” he added.