Tue, Apr 23, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Tourists flee Sri Lanka after bombings

ECONOMIC IMPACT:The tourism industry accounts for about 5 percent of the nation’s economy, and several countries have cautioned citizens about more attacks


Relatives yesterday weep next to the coffin with the remains of 12-year-old Sneha Savindi, a victim of Easter Sunday bombing at St Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka.

Photo: AP

Tourists are scrambling to leave Sri Lanka and hotels are bracing for cancelations after a deadly terrorist attack that killed 290 people targeted foreigners and churchgoers.

Sri Lanka’s government yesterday blamed a local militant group, the National Thowheed Jamath, for the coordinated blasts at churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday, which it said were carried out by seven suicide bombers.

Holidaymakers are flocking to the main airport, cutting short their vacations.

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority chairman Kishu Gomes said he could not give an exact count of the number of people leaving, but it could run into the thousands.

Tour operators in India, the biggest source market for visitors to Sri Lanka, are also canceling trips for clients.

That would hurt an industry that contributes almost 5 percent to the economy.

The foreigner death yesterday toll rose to 39 yesterday, including nationals from India, Portugal, Turkey, the Netherlands, the UK, the US, China and Japan.

Denmark’s richest man, Anders Holch Povlsen, and his wife lost three of their four children, a spokesman for Povlsen’s fashion firm said yesterday.

Top tourist spots, like the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, remained closed, while several of the bigger hotels in Colombo, such as the Taj Samudra and Ramada, erected barricades and were checking vehicles entering the premises.

The US, Canada and the UK have cautioned citizens about traveling to Sri Lanka, with the US and UK warning about the possibility of more attacks.

Annika Wesche, a 27-year-old law student from Germany, arrived in Colombo on Sunday on the final leg of her three-month visit in the country. She struggled to get through to family and friends back home after authorities blocked platforms such as Facebook and Whatsapp.

“I’m now worried about going back,” she said, citing reports of a pipe bomb found along the road leading to the international airport. “Will there be flight cancelations?”

The attack is a setback for the tourism industry, an economic bright spot for the Indian Ocean island’s economy, which has struggled to regain its footing following a three-decade civil conflict that ended in 2009 and political turmoil last year.

Visitor arrivals have increased more than five times since the war ended.

“Even during 26 years of war, we did not experience a calamity like this,” said Hiran Cooray, chairman of Jetwing Symphony, the investment arm of Sri Lankan hotelier Jetwing.

While there have been some cancelations so far, “the tourism industry will come out of this,” he said.

Sri Lanka was the top travel destination for this year in the Lonely Planet’s annual rankings, with tourists attracted by its religious diversity, historic temples, rich wildlife and growing surf scene.

Indian Association of Tour Operators president Pronab Sarkar predicted a “knee-jerk reaction” among all tourists and relief thereafter.

“Cancelations and change in plans will be visible for the next 15 days and then it should start reviving again,” he said.

“The government can’t afford to let that sink again,” he said of Sri Lanka’s tourism sector.

Most of the foreigners were killed at the Shangri-La, Kingsbury and Cinnamon Grand hotels in Colombo.

The Shangri-La would be closed until further notice following the explosion at its Table One restaurant, the hotel said in a statement.

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