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Sri Lanka's political crisis hits tourism hard

Colombo

SRI Lanka's travel industry is starting to suffer the fallout of a political crisis in the middle of its peak tourist season, as uncertainty prompts cancellations by both business and leisure visitors.

Tourism makes up about 5 per cent of the Indian Ocean island's US$87-billion economy, but the president's sacking of the prime minister late in October triggered a crisis that credit rating agencies say has already hit economic prospects.

"We have cancellations in the region of about 20 per cent," said Chandra Mohotti, a manager at the luxury Galle Face Hotel in the capital, Colombo, which has about 200 rooms.

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"Normally our hotel would be full. We are offering discounts because of the fear that allocations will not be utilised." Peak season for holidaymakers from Europe, a major source of tourists, along with India and China, typically runs from December to March.

But numerous flight bookings have been cancelled, especially from Europe, a source at national carrier Sri Lankan Airlines told Reuters.

"The crisis started just when tourists take a decision where to go," said the source, who declined to be named. "(It) has discouraged many of them." Mahinda Rajapaksa, who replaced Ranil Wickremesinghe as prime minister, lacks a parliamentary majority and has been prevented by a court from holding office, delaying the 2019 budget and leading to violent scenes in parliament.

Tourism authorities say more than 2.1 million people visited Sri Lanka in 2017, and the latest figures show arrivals were up more than 10 per cent on the year to the end of October, before the crisis took hold. REUTERS