Colombo, August 23 (Economynext/Daily FT): The Bohra Global Conference 2019 will bring as many as 25,000 tourists to Sri Lanka from September 01 to 10, boosting post-Easter Sunday tourism, a minister said.
“As many as 25,000 Bohras will travel from over 40 countries,” Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga said.
“This will help re-establish Sri Lanka as a safe destination,” he said.
“The endorsement we receive from the event being held here is crucial,” he said.
Amaratunga said that Bohra Global Conference is the largest international event to be held in Sri Lanka, and will generate at least 50 million US dollars in foreign exchange through hotel bookings, excursions and shopping.
It is also the largest event to be hosted in the capital Colombo in recent times, he said.
Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka in August are expected to fall only 12.7 percent to 175,000 visitors, recovering from a 70.8 percent plunge in May just after the bombings.
Processes at the airport are being revamped to handle the sudden influx of 25,000 people, Amaratunga said.
“We need to ensure there are short queues. The airport is the first impression a visitor has of the country.”
The free visa program which nationals from 48 countries are eligible for is being expanded to include all countries for the Bohra conference delegates, Amaratunga said.
The religious event will take place from September 01 to 10 at Sri Lanka’s Bohra Headquarters in Bambalapitiya, but some delegates have already started arriving, he said.
Over 600,000 meals will be served at the event over the 10 days, Amaratunga said.
“Hotels in Colombo are fully booked for the duration of the event,” he said.
“Around 3,000 hotel rooms are booked in formal sector,” he said.
Most of the visitors are staying in informal sector, which many hotels are trying to regulate further through lobbying.
“They are fanatically looking for accommodation in the informal sector hotels, and even apartments not registered with SLTDA,” Amaratunga said.
“Some have booked in Negombo, Ratmalana and Mount Lavinia,” he said.
Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau Managing Director Chamalie Maelge said that visitors have booked hotels on the coastal areas running from Negombo in Colombo’s north to the city of Galle in Sri Lanka’s south.
“They will commute, taking advantage of the highways,” she said.
“The last time they held the conference, I was in Beruwala, and all the hotels in the area were fully booked,” she said.
Around 12,000 Bohras had arrived when the conference was last held in Sri Lanka in 2007.
The event is being held in Sri Lanka for the sixth time.
Amaratunga said that negotiations were tough to retain the business with Sri Lanka after the Easter Sunday attacks.
“It took a long time to convince them of the security situation.”
“It was a battle and was worth having it, to show that Sri Lanka is absolutely safe to travel to.”
“Intelligence services say that there is no imminent threat.”
Amaratunga said that all government authorities and service providers should work to ensure that the event goes off perfectly.
Plea To End State of Emergency
Amaratunga expressed hope that the State of Emergency, which was imposed after the Easter Sunday terror attacks, will be lifted next week.
“Sri Lanka is now regarded as a safe destination. Security forces have repeatedly certified that the country is now safe for travel. I believe by next week or so, the Emergency will be terminated,” Amaratunga told journalists.
He pointed out that the only unfortunate aspect now for the tourism industry is the State of Emergency, which is still continuing. “At the moment because of the Emergency, there are restrictions on the insurance for all tourists that are travelling to Sri Lanka,” he added.
However, the Minister noted the State of Emergency has been extended due to the investigations into the Easter Sunday attacks still being carried out.
Amaratunga assured that after the State of Emergency is lifted, there will be an increase in the arrival of large groups to Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the Minister stressed that tourist arrivals are picking up with a daily average of about 5,000 at present.
“There should be no hesitation of the final numbers. By the end of the year we would surpass two million tourist arrivals, despite the disruptions the country has faced,” Amaratunga said confidently.
Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) Chairman Kishu Gomes said as tourist arrivals gather momentum, they will hit the two million target for this year. “Last year in August we had 217,000 tourists visiting the country. This month, without this conference, our estimate is 155,000. With the convention, we are expecting 175,000 tourists. Month to date average was around 4,700 in August, but the numbers are increasing.”
Gomes said that year-to-date July tourist arrivals exceeded 1.1 million, and by the end of this month, they expect the aggregate tourist arrivals to be around 1.3 million.
He also expressed confidence that they will be able to surpass tourist arrival figures of 149,000 in September, and 153,000 in October set last year.
With four months left for the year to end, Gomes said the average tourist arrival Sri Lanka requires is 175,000 per month to be able to hit the two million target.
(The feautured image at the top shows Tourism Minister Joh Amaratunga addressing the media)