UL Chief signals early tourism revival
- Says country can earn over $ 500 m during upcoming winter season
- Successful vaccination drive and ease of restrictions locally and globally key factors for optimism
- Says national carrier is seeing early signs of pent-up demand
- Ramps up capacity to London with SL out of travel Red List
- To add second frequency to Moscow from November
- Twice-weekly charter flights to Kazakhstan for winter season
- Good demand after resuming flights to India
- Confident of thrice-weekly Paris flights bringing big load
- Airline business rebounds to 50% of pre-COVID level
- In landmark move, Air France, Swiss and Aeroflot to resume flights to Colombo from November
SriLankan Airlines Chairman Ashok Pathirage yesterday revealed early signs of tourism revival, forecasting earnings of over $ 500 million alone in the upcoming winter season, demand for which is on the rise as the national carrier ramps up services.
“The season ahead looks very promising and we are getting ready for a busy schedule,” Pathirage told the Daily FT.
He said that following the rapid vaccination against COVID-19 in Sri Lanka along with the easing of restrictions in major tourist generating markets, prospects for an early revival for the travel and tourism industry had improved.
With Sri Lanka no longer in the UK›s travel Red List and surveys showing a rise in interest to travel to Sri Lanka, the national carrier will ramp up services to London, its mainstay, with the UK being Sri Lanka’s third-biggest tourist source market with over 250,000 arrivals in 2018.
Pathirage said the resumption of services to Moscow after a five-year absence had proved beneficial and due to the rising demand Sri Lankan would deploy the second flight from November.
Additionally, with Kazakhstan becoming an emerging market, SriLankan will introduce two charter flights per week from November in partnership with a big tour operator. Kazakhstan has emerged as Sri Lanka›s biggest source market in the first eight months of this year, accounting for 13% share with over 3,000 arrivals, up by 37% from the corresponding period of last year.
Heralding a return to France after a five-year absence, Sri Lankan has already announced the launch of thrice-weekly flights to Paris also from November and Pathirage said initial bookings looked very encouraging.
Air France too has announced launch flights to Sri Lanka from November, a breakthrough development after 35 years. France was Sri Lanka’s fifth-biggest tourist source market with over 100,000 arrivals prior to the COVID pandemic.
Pathirage said these encouraging developments along with the launch of two weekly flights from Zurich by Swiss from 4 November as well as Aeroflot point to a very busy season for the tourism industry.
“I am confident that the winter season will generate over $ 500 million in foreign exchange earnings from tourism, thereby triggering an early revival. Next calendar year we can look at $ 2-3 billion earnings from tourism,” the Sri Lankan Chairman added.
In incident-free 2018, Sri Lanka earned a record $ 4.4 billion from tourism with 2.3 million arrivals. However, the industry has struggled since the April 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks followed by the COVID pandemic. In 2019, tourist arrivals fell to 1.9 million and earnings dipped to $ 3.6 billion whilst last year arrivals plunged to 508,000 and earnings to $ 682 million.
Pathirage also sees pent-up demand coming from India where it resumed flights to six destinations last month. “At present, we are bringing 400-500 passengers from India daily and with Sri Lanka fully re-opening for tourism from November, there will be a big increase,” he said, adding that SriLankan would increase capacity to the neighbouring giant in tandem with demand.
The national carrier also sees improved traffic from Japan and the Middle East from October onwards.
“Even as we speak Sri Lankan Airlines has reverted to 50% of the pre-COVID time revenue and we are excited about the high potential for a pick-up in business next month onwards,” Pathirage added.
Despite the reopening of borders on 21 January, tourism has struggled, partly due to multiple waves of the COVID in Sri Lanka as well as restrictions in tourism-generating markets.
In the first eight months of 2021, there had been only 24,377 tourists, with arrivals in August rising to 5,040, the highest since the re-opening of borders. Earnings from tourism are estimated to have been $ 3 million in July and $ 26 million in the first seven months.