India is the biggest market for Sri Lanka in terms of tourism arrivals and that is likely to be the case in the long term as well, said Chalaka Gajabahu, chairman, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB), the government body responsible for handling all marketing and promotion activities for the island nation.

In terms of numbers, right now, India is the number one source market for us and I’m pretty sure it’s going to stay there for the next couple of years and for our long-term plans as well,” he said.

Gajabahu said the country has already got over 600,000 incoming tourists till June 30. “Our last year’s overall figure was 720,000. Our target is to get 1.55 million tourists. 2018 was the best year in terms of travel for us as we got 2.3 million tourists. If we can get close to 2 million, it will be a massive recovery for us,” he said.

“Our President Ranil Wickremesinghe has asked us to focus on India and China as the numbers from these two markets won’t fail us for the next 3-4 years,” he added.

Gajabahu was speaking at the 67th Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) convention in Colombo. TAAI is hosting its 2023 convention in Colombo from July 6-9 on the invitation from SLTPB, the Economic Times reported.

Referring to the economic crisis, he said the country is moving forward in terms of the economic situation and debt restructuring. “We are moving forward through support from World Bank, Asian Development Bank, IMF, and the EU programmes that are all in process. Yes, there is criticism about it but even though there is criticism, there is no solution. If there is criticism, there should also be solutions. Right now, the current government is offering solutions and we are moving forward,” he said.

“The economic situation has improved drastically. The fuel crisis and the medicine crisis are not there any more. The dollar rates for us are not where they were. Without a proper campaign, the little bits that we did starting with India, China, London, Germany and the Middle East paid off. We participated in travel shows and roadshows. The numbers are coming in,” he added.

TAAI president Jyoti Mayal said there are certain things that the government has done which have not come into the limelight. “The Indian currency is going to be accepted here. You can spend your money here. The governments have agreed to do that. As the oldest nodal travel and tourism association of India, we are collaborating with each other to bring out the best products for the country,” she said.

“We will stand by them to say that we all prosper together in this. Whenever we travel as a convention, the interest of the general people also rises,” she added.

Nishad Wijetunga, president of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO), said out of the 600,000 tourist arrivals, at least 30-40% would be from India.

“India has been the biggest source market. Even going back in time, every time we have had a crisis, when we have come to a real crunch, it is India that has come to our rescue. At the moment the top markets are India and Russia. UK was a very big market. Hopefully, it should come back,” he added.

Wijetunga said a lot of MICE projects have come to Sri Lanka in the past three months and he is hoping this will continue. “We had a forex crisis in this country. We spent six months from June to December last year trying to convince our generative markets that the situation was improving. That we had food and medicines and that our people were okay,” he said. “But the future is looking good. The cruises have started. The new ferry from Pondicherry to Sri Lanka will be a huge game changer. That means crossing over to Sri Lanka at a very nominal price,” he added.

source daily mirror