It’s time for tourists to embrace the beauty of the budget in Sri Lanka again

It is not unheard of for loyal supporters to wear the colors of their opposing team. So when Sri Lankan fans turned up at Colombo’s R Premadasa Stadium dressed in yellow for a match against Australia in June 2022, the signal was up around the globe.

Thanking the foreign players for touring at a time when others had turned their backs on the troubled country, local spectators held handwritten banners with the words: “Thank you Australia. We love you.”

Known for its warm and welcoming spirit, the pearl of the Indian Ocean has steadily embraced tourism since recovering from a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009. The country has a lot to offer: eight world heritage sites Unesco, rich biodiversity. and a sparkling coast with surf-kissed sand.

Sri Lankan cricket fans dressed in yellow as they cheered and held a flag in thanks to the Australian cricket team

Grateful cricket fans welcome the Australian test team in Colombo – Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty

But hit by numerous difficulties in recent years, it has not been an easy journey. In December 2004, the island was hit by a devastating tsunami, followed by the Easter 2019 terrorist bombings and the inevitable fall in business due to Covid. In 2022, confidence in the country plummeted further as a debt default led to power cuts, protests and spiraling annual inflation of around 60 percent.

But despite the contracts, there is growing interest in the destination; new hotels are opening, more attractions are opening and inquiries for holidays have increased according to tour operators. Although it is far too slow to come to fruition, the FCDO’s recent decision to relax its advice to UK nationals is further proof that it is time to go back.

A street food vendor on the beach in ColomboA street food vendor on the beach in Colombo

A street food vendor selling roti, crabs and prawns along the beach in Colombo – Getty

Escort tour company Explore, which has been selling holidays to Sri Lanka for over 40 years, has seen a 174 per cent increase in customer bookings over the past 12 months. Intrepid has also grown by 130 per cent from 2022 to 2023 and now plans to run 350 events to meet growing demand.

“We’ve been leading the destination for a long time and we really believe there are more good reasons than ever to travel to Sri Lanka,” says Venetia Cox, head of Asia, Australia and the Middle East at the luxury travel experts cazenove+ loyd, who are reporting a 30 per cent increase in enquiries. “The impact of tourism as a force for good here should not be underestimated.”

Rangiri Dambulla Cave Temple in Dambulla is visited by foreign touristsRangiri Dambulla Cave Temple in Dambulla is visited by foreign tourists

Another highlight is the Rangiri Dambulla cave temple in Dambulla – Ishara S Kodikara/Getty

Since tourism accounts for about 5 percent of the country’s GDP and 15 percent of the population depends on the income it generates, returning visitors have a role to play in helping a nation desperate for an injection of foreign currency. get back on track.

“Tourism is the biggest sector in Sri Lanka, with a big trickle down impact, so every important expenditure will benefit many members of society, because of tuk tuk drivers and coconut sellers,” says Dee Gibson , British Sri Lankan. Kalukanda House is a boutique hotel, a short drive from the coastal city of Galle. “It makes the difference between eating and not eating, educating children or not sending them to school. The impact is huge.”

Apart from feeling good about their actions, travelers can benefit from cheaper prices and less crowds. “The exchange rate is strong so holiday budgets stretch further to offer great properties and experiences,” she says.

Foreign tourists visit the ancient rock fortress in SigiriyaForeign tourists visit the ancient rock fortress in Sigiriya

The ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya is one of the great heritage sites in Sri Lanka – Ishara S Kodikara/AFP

Despite concerns from the outside world, conditions inside the country have been stable for some time. Many argue that the FCDO council is still out of touch – even with reforms.

“The attitude here in Sri Lanka is very positive,” says Marcelline Paul, vice president of sales and marketing at Uga Escapes. “Good progress has been made with the IMF and other international donors. Inflation is down to single digits compared to the 2022 average of 44 percent.”

The company, which operates a portfolio of six boutique properties, plans to launch a new hotel, Uga Halloowella, in the tea-growing region of Ella later this year. It sits within easy access of the Pekoe Trail, a new hiking route that runs through the central highlands. Ceylon and Teardrop Hotels, two established players in the destination, also have new properties opening in 2025.

Unfortunately, political realities and ongoing human rights violations dampen feelings of hope. Bills to decriminalize homosexuality are still being debated and a report by Human Rights Watch earlier this year raised concerns about freedom of expression. But a willingness to work through problems suggests that change is possible.

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Walkers exploring the Ella tea growing region – Getty

“Sri Lankans are resilient. They’re embracing it too,” says Jean Marc Flambert, the former UK director of Sri Lanka Tourism, who took the brave step of launching the Secrets of Ceylon tour company in June 2022 – the same month the cricket team Australia headlines for visiting the country. “Nothing describes us much. We bounce back.”

Recalling those difficult days when imports dried up and store shelves were sparse, he describes the ingenuity and ingenuity of local people who switched to growing their own produce.

“My mother started growing beans and bartering some for a neighbor’s vegetables,” he says, adding that he hopes she will continue the practice even now that conditions have improved. “Sri Lankan soil is so fertile. You can drop a mango seed and expect to come back in 12 months and see a plant.”

It is an apt metaphor for a country that has the ability to quickly flourish again.

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