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Sri Lanka tourism industry to take a beating from Easter blasts: industry officials

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: April 24, 2019  | 17:13 IST

Colombo, Apr 24 (PTI) Sri Lanka's tourism industry, the mainstay of its economy, could be hit by the Easter Sunday's deadly blasts which killed over 350 people, the industry officials warned. Sri Lanka is one of South Asia's top tourist destinations with its pristine beaches, tea gardens and dense forests. Suicide bombers carried out a series of devastating blasts that ripped through churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, in the country's worst terror attack. The bombs tore through three five-star hotels in Colombo: the Cinnamon Grand, the Shangri La and the Kingsbury. At least 38 foreigners, including 10 Indian nationals, have died in the attacks. The tourism officials said that many tourists were cutting short their stays and the airlines have suffered flight cancellations. "We will continue to provide alternative accommodation for our affected guests. Our team has been assisting with guest requests for transportation and flight arrangements," Mahika Chandrasena, Director of Public Relations at Shangri-La, Colombo, one of the property that was attacked by the suicide bombers, told PTI. The government said they had taken some damage control measures as the arrivals are expected to decline at least during the next 3 months. "I wish to assure the Tourism industry that the government has taken every possible measure to ensure the safety of the public and all tourists who are in the country at present," said Tourism Minister John Amaratunga. "The three Armed Forces along with the Police have put in place a comprehensive security plan covering hotels, resorts and places of tourist interest to ensure the safety of tourists," he said in a statement. Amaratunga said special arrangements had been made to assign a special representative to the hospitals where the injured tourists are receiving treatment and the three hotels affected by the attacks. "I don't have an exact number, but it can be thousands trying to cut short their holidays and leave Sri Lanka early," Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Chairman Kishu Gomes said. Fitch Ratings, the global rating agency, downgraded Sri Lanka's rating to 'B' from 'B+' last December following last year's political crisis. The agency said that the church and hotel bombings that occurred over the Easter weekend will undermine tourism earnings, which had been rising steadily in recent years to about 5 per cent of GDP in 2018. India is the largest source market for Sri Lanka, which received 2.3 million tourists from around the world in 2018. Around 450,000 Indian tourists visited Sri Lanka last year and the island nation was expecting the total Indian tourist arrivals to cross one million mark in 2019. Tourism revenues in Sri Lanka increased to USD 362.7 million in November from USD 284 million in October 2018, according to a media report. The big hotels which were not affected by the blasts such as the Galle Face Hotel, Ramada and Taj Samudra were seen taking additional security measures. They have erected barricades and use hand scanners for tourists coming in. These measures will be in place at last for sometime bringing back memories of the times of the heightened military clashes with the LTTE. For 10 years the island nation experienced peace with relaxed security. Mount Lavinia Hotel south of the capital, a popular site for the tourists, said there have been a large number of cancellations. Galle Face Hotel top official Chandra Mohotti also said "there will be huge cancellations". Even during the height of the three-decade long conflict with the LTTE, Sri Lanka had not seen tourists being targeted. The Easter Sunday blasts were the first time that tourists were specifically targeted. In his first reaction to Sunday's balsts, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said tourism industry will be hit by the blasts. "There will be a downward trend, Tourism will get affected. There may be fund outflows," Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said. Industry officials said the rebound from the attacks would depend on the security measures to be adopted. Sri Lanka's tourism industry faced a difficult time until a decade back due to the civil war with the LTTE which claimed at least 100,000 lives. However, in the recent years the island nation has emerged as a top tourism destination in Asia. The island nation has developed the Ramayana circuit to woo Indian tourists by identifying several places connected with the ancient Indian epic. The government last night brought back emergency regulations that would grant the security forces sweeping powers to crackdown on law and order breaches. Suicide bombers, believed to be members of local Islamist extremist group, carried out a series of devastating blasts that tore through churches and luxury hotels in Sri Lanka on Sunday. Though the National Tawheed Jamath (NJT) blamed by the Sri Lankan government has not claimed responsibility for the attacks, the Islamic State said the bombers owing allegiance to the terror group carried out the strikes. PTI CORR MRJ AKJ AMS AMS

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