Colombo, Jan 2 (NIA) – The Sri Lankan government, on Monday said it had exceeded the two million mark for tourist arrivals in 2016 but sources from the tourism industry said the island had failed to reach its target of 2.2 million tourists.
Sri Lanka’s Tourism Minister, John Amaratunga told NewsIn.Asia that the island had passed the 2 million figure but was awaiting the final numbers to see how many tourists had arrived in total last year.
“We had a target of 2.2 million but it is yet to see if we have achieved that. However we have crossed the 2 million mark,” Amaratunga said.
Sources from the industry said the island fell short of the targeted numbers but was satisfied with the overall figures.
Up to November, the government had achieved a little more than 1.8 million tourists with the leading markets being India and China.
The government had earlier last year set a target of 2.2 million tourists by the end of 2016 and 4 million tourists by 2020. In 2017, the government has set a target of 2.5 million tourists.
The Minister however expressed deep concern that the closure of the Bandaranaike International Airport for certain hours from January to April would affect the tourism numbers for 2017. “This is deeply worrying and I have raised it with the people concerned. However we will continue to do our best to attract as many tourists as possible in 2017,” Amaratunga said.
The country’s main international airport will be closed from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm every day starting Jan 6 to April 6 due to maintenance work on the runway. Several flights have had to re-schedule their arrivals and departures to Colombo as a result of the maintenance work. Passengers travelling during this period have also been advised to arrive at the Airport 5 hours prior to their flight departure.
Meanwhile the Minister further said that with popular international hotels scheduled to open in 2017, especially in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s tourism industry was set to strengthen further in the future and would very well become the country’s top foreign exchange earner.
When questioned if there would be an influx of rooms in the future, in Colombo, the minister denied it stating that a severe demand for rooms already existed in the capital.
Because of the severe demand, tourists were even turning to the informal sector for rooms, the Minister added.
Sri Lanka’s tourism industry which once suffered severely due to the island’s 30 year civil conflict has now become one of the leading foreign exchange earners. Amaratunga said that the government had planned mega publicity campaigns this year which would promote Sri Lanka as an ideal tourist destination.