India topped Sri Lanka’s tourist arrivals in December and the entire year, according to data published by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).
For most part of 2020 beginning April, Sri Lanka shut its borders fearing import of COVID-19 cases into the island nation, which was then making global headlines for managing the pandemic well.
It was only in December 2020 that the country had gradually opened up to recover from the severe economic impact of the pandemic that had hit its tourism sector — third largest foreign exchange earner. However, 2021 saw a gradual increase in tourists, picking up in the latter part of the year.
For December, Sri Lanka recorded 89,506 tourist arrivals, of whom 23,566 or 26.3 % were from India, data showed, signalling that India had regained its spot as the largest source market in its tourism sector. From January 2021 to December 2021, 56,268 tourists — about 42 % of the visitors — arrived in Colombo from India, again the highest number from a country recorded last year, following Russia, the U.K. and Germany.
Sri Lanka is making its second big attempt to revive tourism after the Easter terror bombings of April 2019. It recorded about 1.9 million arrivals in 2019, a drop from the record 2.3 million the previous year. And then the pandemic struck. In 2020, 5,07,704 tourists visited Sri Lanka, mostly during the first three months before Sri Lanka reported its first local case of COVID-19 in March 2020.
The sector’s recovery in 2021 was slow, with 1,94,495 tourists through the year. Pre-pandemic, the tourism sector generated $4 billion. It dropped to $682 million in 2021 and to $82 million until October in 2021, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka data showed.
Enthused by the increase in tourist arrivals in November and December 2021, the SLTDA has stepped up international promotions hoping to further boost the sector. “Sri Lanka is back, and we are open for tourists. Our country has everything a post-COVID traveller is looking for. We have created a relaxed, bubble-free travelling for fully vaccinated travellers. Sri Lanka is ready to welcome you with the warmth of our hospitality,” SLTDA chairperson Kimali Fernando said recently.
Indian tourists, in addition to holding destination weddings along the southern beaches, often travel to the hills in the Central Province, to cities such as Nuwara Eliya, while some follow the ‘Ramayana trail’ curated by tour operators.