Sri Lanka welcomes boost in tourism and acknowledge coming challenges
Since the end of the three-decade-long conflict, the number of tourists booking Sri Lanka holidays has significantly increased but despite positive visitor numbers, the island is facing challenges ahead as it aims to become a leading travel destination.
In May 2009, the three-decade-long civil war in Sri Lanka finally came to an end bringing peace to the beautiful Indian Ocean island. Since the end of conflict, the island has seen a much-needed boost in the number of tourists taking Sri Lanka holidays as they regain confidence in the safe travel to the island.
At the end of 2010, Sri Lanka Tourism (SLT) celebrated the arrival of 600,000 foreign visitors on Sri Lanka holidays. This year the SLT is hoping to attract 700,000 arrivals and a target of 2.5million visitors by 2016.
Sri Lanka's Minister of Economic Development, and younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Basil Rajapaksa, says:
"Peace is the biggest investment for the development of tourism in any country. There won't be tourists if there is no peace."
Rajapaksa added that the Sri Lankan government are standing back from direct intervention with the tourism industry in a bid to allow it to develop itself.
The majority of travellers who enjoy Indian Ocean holidays in Sri Lanka originate from India and the United Kingdom and thought the India visitor numbers are higher, UK tourists are likely to stay on the island longer which has a positive impact on the economy.
Sri Lanka is famous for its stunning natural scenery and diverse ecosystem comprising miles of sandy beaches, mountains, wildlife sanctuaries, nature parks, and array of UNESCO heritage sites which include ancient cities and colonial forts.
"The nature has blessed us with beautiful beaches, waterfalls, exotic wildlife and historic places. We as a nation have a reputation for our hospitality," says Rajapaksa
However, some might argue that the Sri Lanka authorities are not being fair when it comes to foreign tourists and accuse them of giving preferential treatment to Westerners, while ignoring the travellers who come from Russia and Eastern Europe.
During the height of the island's conflict, Sri Lanka heavily relied on the regular influx of visitors from Easter Europe as the number of travellers from the West dropped dramatically. During the recent tourism boost it appears that many Russian-speaking travellers have been politely refused at Sri Lanka hotels in favour of Westerners.
One experienced Russian tourist guide, Rodney Saram, has noticed a difference since the recent influx of Western visitors.
"Even during the peak of the conflict I used to get approximately 200,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($1,800) a month with commissions. But it has now reduced to about 50,000 rupees during the recent tourism peak," he said.
A new online visa scheme has been put in place to make it easier for tourists to obtain all necesary documentation to visit Sri Lanka.
"We have changed the on-arrival visa to an at-home visa," Rajapaksa explains. "Now anybody can apply for a visa from home and they will receive it within 24 to 72 hours.
"There have been instances of visas being rejected at the airport, but now you get the response while you are at home, and there will be special facilities at the airport for those who arrive with the online visa."
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