Sri Lanka expects bookings from the Middle East to remain strong, despite April 21 attacks
Sri Lankan Airlines plans to install air marshals on board some flights, as the country’s tourism sector deals with the aftermath of the April 21 attacks on hotels and churches, which killed more than 250 people.
Vipula Gunatilleka, the CEO of Sri Lankan Airlines, told Euronews the state-owned carrier would introduce the air marshals on some of its routes.
Despite the increased security precautions, Gunatilleka said a drop bookings was inevitable after the attacks.
“Business, if you look at it in terms of the passenger numbers and the forward bookings, we have seen about a 10 percent decline,” Gunatilleka was quoted as saying during a television interview at the Arabian Travel Market event in Dubai.
“Of course, we see cancellations coming from the European destinations, but our other markets like India and the Middle East have been holding on,” he added.
The attacks and cancellations have meant that the plans to attract a private investor for the loss-making carrier have also been put on hold.
“In the turnaround plan that we submitted to the government, we were expecting to reach a breakeven situation in three years’ time,” he said. “They have been looking for a private investor, but that will get delayed I believe, with the current situation. The biggest problem is that 45 percent of our losses are due to interest financing costs.”
Sri Lankan tourism authorities said they expect tourist arrivals to drop by as much as 50 percent over the next two months in the wake of the attacks.
“In Colombo, for the next two months, we believe that arrivals will go down by 50 percent...and in out station areas by about 30 percent,” Sri Lanka Tourism Bureau chairman Kishu Gomes told reporters at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.
Additionally, Gomes said officials estimate that Sri Lanka will fall short of its official target of attracting 2.5 million international tourists in 2019, and about a million people fewer than its “aspirational” target of 3 million. In 2018, the country attracted 2.33 million visitors.
“We will probably reach about 2 million, but [it is not] scientifically easy to get an accurate calculation,” he said. “If the military can come out over the next few day’s time and make a statement with respect to security, that’s when we will offer a bit of confidence and try work against that anticipation.”
A total of 42 foreigners from 15 countries were among the more than 250 people killed in the attacks, along with over 40 foreigners who were wounded. All but one of the injured tourists has been discharged from hospital.
Gomes added that two of the three hotels struck by bombers have re-started normal operations, while a third - the Shangri-La in Colombo - is expected to return to normal operations in June.