Escape back to Sri Lanka
by Steve Hartridge
Sri Lanka faces a ‘lost summer’ of bookings and a slow climb back to the visitor numbers it had before Easter Sunday’s terrorist bombings, says the Managing Director of one the country’s top hotel groups.
“We are under no illusions that visitors are going to rush back quickly; our expectations are set low. We expect a slow but steady return as consumers and the trade realise we are doing everything possible to make our island as safe and welcoming as we possibly can,” said Priyanjith Weerasooria, during a visit to London.
Uga Escapes, which operates five properties across the island, lost around 60% of its confirmed bookings after the attacks, he said.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office lifted its travel restrictions to the country in early June, but the hotel group is not expecting a significant boost in bookings until 2020.
“It is fair to say that summer, which is our peak season, is in effect cancelled for our tourism industry, but bookings are starting to now come back for the December to March winter period winter.
“The tour operators I have spoken to this week have been very positive. We are hopeful of late bookings for this time, and more again for next summer.”
A raft of special offers and add-ons – free nights, room upgrades and complimentary experiences – are being rolled out to encourage visitors back to the island.
“UK travellers who come to Sri Lanka will notice a welcome that is even warmer than usual,” added Weerasooria.
“They will also find a safer, more vigilant country. Our intelligence sharing is now better, security across the island has been heightened and our airport and hotels have new scanning equipment and metal detectors and more security personnel.”
Ego Escapes - whose properties are in Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Pasikuda, Colombo and safari hotspot, Yala - will also reengage with the trade through a fam trip, marketing promotions and by contacting smaller travel agencies, he said.
Uga Escapes is a key partner in the Love Sri Lanka initiative, an initiative of the new Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance (SLTA) set up by island’s tourism private sector after the terrorist attacks. A web portal and associated social media channels provide information and updates to assist with the rebuilding of confidence internationally.
SLTA, in association with AITO, is hosting a ‘UK re-launch evening’ on July 16 at the Royal Overseas League in London.