With tourism, Sri Lanka’s big revenue earner, taking a hit after the April 21 Easter Sunday terror bombings that killed over 250, Sri Lankan Minister of Tourism and Christian Religious Affairs John Amaratunga is on a mission to persuade Indians that the island nation is a safe destination.
In India’s financial capital on Monday, Amaratunga announced special tour packages for Indian tourists. He said normalcy has been restored and emphasised that Sri Lanka was a friend of India. “India is our big brother. We always fall in line with Indian politics and Indian foreign policy,” he said. “It is a good time to visit. All these opportunities are available with 50-60 per cent discounts..”
Asked about the attacks on Muslims in some districts of Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the attacks, Amaratunga said those incidents were isolated. “Politicians will try to capitalise on this situation. Some irresponsible people have done these things (attacks on Muslims) and there has been action against them,” he said.
“There was a finger pointed at Muslim (Sri Lankan) ministers that they knew and they had some connection with those who carried out the attack. The ministers resigned from portfolios. They said ‘You do the investigation. If there is no evidence, we will take back our positions’. Now, they are in the process of coming back one by one because there was no evidence against them. The parliamentary select committee (conducting the investigation) found no evidence against them,” Amaratunga said.
The foreign minister said Indian tourists were the highest-spending and longest-staying tourists in Sri Lanka. Kishu Gomes, Chairman, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau said Indians spent $1200 per tourist per visit while Americans spent $700. He said after the terror attack in April, May saw a 70 per cent decline in tourist arrivals while tourism revenues were hit by about 80 per cent.
“Last year we had 4,00,000 Indian tourists. That was the largest number from any part of the world. China came second. This year we would have met 5,00,000… unfortunately, the attacks on April 21 derailed our expectations.”
The foreign minister said he could give a guarantee that Sri Lanka was secure, and that it was backed by the country’s intelligence services.
Chamari Rodrigo, Consul General, Sri Lanka said almost all countries have withdrawn the travel advisories issued in the aftermath of the attack. Expressing his gratitude to the Indian government for its support, he said Prime Minister Narendra Modi would not have travelled to Sri Lanka if it was unsafe.