Tourism in Sri Lanka takes a hit following violence and attacks

The tourism sector has taken a hit in Sri Lanka following a combination of events, including recent violence in the central town of Kandy and attacks on foreign visitors in the south.

Sources at Sri Lanka’s Tourism Ministry said that urgent steps are being taken to mitigate the impact the recent incidents will have on the tourism sector, the Asia Pacific Daily reported.

Hotels in Kandy and even in the central hills in Nuwara Eliya are suffering from the after effects of the recent violence in Kandy.

The manager at a leading hotel in Kandy said that usually during the April holiday season they record close to 80-90 percent of occupancy.

However this year the numbers have seen a drastic drop with just around 50 percent occupancy recorded following the Kandy violence.

Several countries issued travel advisories following the violence in Kandy and lifted it after the state of emergency was lifted last month.

However despite the assurance given by the Sri Lanka Tourism Devolopment Authority (SLTDA) that the Kandy district has fully returned to normalcy and bans on messaging platforms (WhatsApp, Viber) and Facebook had been lifted, tourists were still skeptical about the security situation.

April is considered the Nuwara Eliya season when both local and foreign tourists flock to the hills.

However most hotels and lodges in Nuwara Eliya, which are usually booked the entire month, saw a drop in demand this year.

Some small hotel operators said that while the Kandy violence had forced some tourists to stay away, water pollution in Nuwara Eliya also contributed in a small way.

As the hotel industry and the Tourism Ministry looked to address the concerns related to the Kandy violence, a fresh issue arose following two incidents where foreign tourists were attacked.

One incident was an attack and attempted rape of a group of Dutch tourists in the southern coastal town of Mirissa while the other was an attack on a group of tourists from Israel.

Both incidents were reported in the Dutch and Israel media and now threatens to see the issuing of a travel advise by some countries.

Sources at the Dutch embassy in Colombo said that the Dutch tourists who were attacked had not filed a complaint with the embassy over the incident as of last Thursday.

The Police had also sought the assistance of the victims to identify the suspects involved in the incident but had no contact from the Dutch tourists by Thursday.

It was reported that four tourists including a Dutch male and two women were assaulted at the Surf Bar in Mirissa on 8th April when they resisted the suspects attempting to sexually harass the women.

The Police had arrested several suspects over the incident and they were remanded by court.

The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) had ordered the Water Creatures Beach Guest Restaurant & Surf Bar to be closed following the assault on the tourists.

Last week the Minister of Project Management, Youth Affairs and Southern Development Sagala Ratnayaka said that all hotels operating in Mirissa had been told they must register with the SLTDA.

Ratnayaka held a meeting with the Police, relevant officials and hotel operators on the incident involving the group of Dutch tourists.

The Minister said that he had advised the hotel owners to strictly follow the law with regards to registering with the SLTDA and also to adhere to the law on the sale of liquor.

Tourism Minister John Amaratunga said that while six individuals had been arrested soon after the Mirissa incident the Police Officer in Charge (OIC) of the area had also been transferred.

He said that the SLTDA had also requested Excise Commissioner to investigate how liquor was sold at the venue without a licence.

The SLTDA was carrying out separate investigations on the legality of the business while the owners and management of the venue had been summoned to Colombo for an inquiry.

The SLTDA had also decided to sponsor and bring down two of the victims from overseas for the Police identification parade.

The Police had also been instructed to beef up security and patrolling of the area with immediate effect.

Amaratunga said that he met with the Police top brass to revamp the tourist Police and ensure a larger presence in key tourist areas.

In addition to the current 11 tourist police posts, 20 new areas had been identified and posts are to be set up at those locations shortly.

Pictures by Easwaran Rutnam