Sri Lanka looks to adventure travel to attract ‘quality’ tourists and help rebuild economy

Adventure tourism is playing a key role in helping Sri Lanka rebuild its economy after a turbulent few years for the South Asian nation.

The country’s tourism sector was particularly affected in recent years due to a foreign currency crisis resulting from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic which led to months of food and fuel shortages, along with runaway inflation and prolonged blackouts.

A year on, leading Sri Lankan figures, speaking at a Dubai conference, were optimistic about tourism helping the country’s recovery.

One of the main strategies is to diversify their offerings and target those seeking adventure holidays.

“We are not going to try and make Sri Lanka expensive but we want to make it the destination of choice when it comes to affordable luxury”, said Harin Fernando, Sri Lankan Minister of Tourism and Lands.

“We have just launched the Pekoe Trail, a 23-day hike through the mountains — that’s just one of the adventures we are offering,” Harin Fernando, Sri Lankan Minister of Tourism and Lands, told a conference on the second day of the Arabian Travel Market at Dubai World Trade Centre.

“We’re also investing in marine diving, mountain climbing and hiking.

“Another activity we are looking to bring to Sri Lanka is ski diving.”

Visitors from the GCC will play a key role in ensuring Sri Lanka continues to rebound from its troubles in recent years, the minister added.

“The Middle Eastern market is going to be crucial for Sri Lanka,” he said.

“Initially, what we wanted were numbers, which meant quantity over quality, but now I want to see us move to quality over quantity.

“We were desperate to get tourists back to Sri Lanka but that was the short-term goal. Now we need to move to a long-term strategy.”

It means attracting tourists who were likely to spend more on their holidays.

“The average spending of tourists in Sri Lanka] is $200-250, which is not enough,” said Mr Fernando.

“The target is to move that number to $400-500 by next year.

“We are not going to try and make Sri Lanka expensive but we want to make it the destination of choice when it comes to affordable luxury.”

Bounced back

Sri Lanka experienced power cuts and a shortage of essential goods last year, with inflation rates reaching as high as 50 per cent.

Protests took place in the capital city of Colombo and spread to other parts of the country.

The fuel crisis led to schools closing with people urged to work remotely to reduce costs.

Eventually, the country missed a payment on its foreign debt for the first time in its history.

There was also a change of leadership as the crisis deepened.

In March, the International Monetary Fund approved a $3 billion bailout loan to help Sri Lanka in restructuring its debt and addressing its crisis-hit economy.

The Sri Lankan rupee has strengthened from its record low in May to emerge as the world’s best-performing currency this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The feeling among those at the event in Dubai is that those days are in the past.

“It has been a bumpy ride for Sri Lanka in the last 11 to 12 months but I am delighted to say we have bounced back from where we were a year ago,” said Mr Fernando.

Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the UAE said being a year-round destination makes it attractive to a visitor from the Middle East, where temperatures tend to soar during the summer months.

“After months of turbulent times, Sri Lankan tourism is back, stronger and better than ever,” said Udaya Indrarathna at the event.

“We have a lot of unique experiences to offer the Middle Eastern traveller.

“Sri Lanka is a year-round destination with pristine beaches and amazing weather.

“The country is a biodiversity hotspot with large forest coverage and a rich wildlife. It also boasts a unique cultural heritage.

“It’s the best of Asia in one compact island.”

Hoteliers at the event believe that Sri Lanka is resurgent because of the diversification it offers tourists.

“The complexion of tourism in Sri Lanka is changing,” said Suresh Rajendra, president of leisure for the John Keels Group, the parent company of Cinnamon Hotels.

“The typical tourism in Sri Lanka has been beach stays and tours based on the culture and the hill country.

“That’s changing and we are seeing Colombo starting to attract the conference market which is bringing in more visitors from India and China.”

CinnamonHotels unveiled plans for a new Colombo-based resort in Dubai on Tuesday.

Diversification in India

Hoteliers at the conference said India is also working on diversifying its tourist offering.

“Within the adventure space you have dunes, mountains, the sea and beautiful lakes,” said Amir Golbarg, senior vice president of operations in the Middle East and Africa with Minor Hotels.

He was referring to the Jaipur region, where a new Anantara luxury resort owned by the Minor group is due to open at the end of this year.

“Just half an hour away you have beautiful unexplored dunes and in other areas you have incredible wildlife,” he said.

“We’re looking at how we can add an adventure trek with going on a journey with the tigers and experiencing them in the wild.”

The potential for tourism to grow in India was huge, but more needed to be done to improve its infrastructure, the conference heard.
“India is now the world’s most populous country, overtaking China, but it should have more inbound tourists,” said Dimitris Manikis, president for the EMEA region at Wyndham Hotels and Resorts.

“The potential is enormous but there are issues with infrastructure that need to be overcome.

“These include the network of roads and railways, visas, airports — everything that makes a destination more accessible.”

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