In an exclusive interview with ITB Berlin News, Hon. John Amaratunga, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs, explains how tourism is evolving in the country as arrival figures have increased dramatically over the last eight years.
To be more specific arrivals which stood at 500,000 in 2010 shot up to 2.2 million last year and our estimate is that 2.5 million foreign tourists will visit the country this year. I believe this success is a result of the positive publicity the country has received globally in the recent past and also word of mouth by those who have visited. Tourism is now the third highest foreign exchange earner for the country and our target is to push it to number one in the not too distant future. We have a three-year strategic plan in place to achieve this goal.
Which source markets are evolving the fastest, and who are you targeting in particular at ITB Berlin this year?
Our leading source market is our neighbour India followed by our Asian counterpart, China. The UK comes in third followed by Germany and France. This is why Europe is very important for us in general and Germany in particular. Our marketing efforts at ITB Berlin will primarily revolve around these key markets. While we are encouraged by the response from nontraditional, new markets in the Americas and Australasia, our presence at ITB Berlin is to primarily target the German market, which has had very good relations with Sri Lanka even when things were not that great for tourism during the civil unrest which thankfully ended in 2009. Last year arrivals from Europe grew by 6% outpacing overall industry growth which was at 4%. According to our records 681,000 tourists arrived in Sri Lanka from Western Europe last year making the region one of the fastest evolving source markets for us. What is of concern, however, is a slight 2% drop in German arrivals, which we hope to reverse with our participation at ITB Berlin this year. Altogether, 130,000 Germans visited Sri Lanka in 2017.
How is infrastructure being developed to cater for tourism growth?
Tourism in Sri Lanka is evolving at a steady pace with continuous infrastructure development and the addition of thousands of new star class rooms across the country, especially in the commercial capital Colombo in order to keep up with the demand. Infrastructure development is an ongoing process. Some of the current projects include the creation of a brand new city from land reclaimed from the seas adjacent to the Colombo harbour. This new city will feature stateof- the-art hotels, shopping malls, theme parks, marinas and the very latest infrastructure for multisensory entertainment. In addition to the already complete d highways connecting the international airport to Colombo and the south, development of other major highways connecting Colombo, Kandy and Jaffna with every corner of the island has already started and will be completed before 2020..
What new products are being presented at ITB?
Today Sri Lanka is a safe haven for tourists. We have a rich heritage depicted through eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a food culture based on exotic spices, one of world’s oldest healing methods, Ayurveda, diverse wildlife, golden beaches and many adventure activities. Sri Lanka is world famous for its sun, sea and sand. This is a well-established product especially in the European market. In the last few years we have seen world class hotel chains build luxury hotels and resorts on the beaches catering to the upper segment of travellers who seek the sun, sea and sand. We have so many other products which offer a wide choice for the tourists. To name a few we have adventure tourism, sports tourism, health and wellness tourism based on the ancient indigenous Ayurveda system, wildlife and event based tourism. ITB is a good platform to take this message to the world.
Photo :Hon. John Amaratunga Minister, Sri Lanka’s Tourism Development, Christian Religious Affairs