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Indians keep Lankan tourist industry buoyant

Tourist arrivals from India and Britain are keeping Sri Lanka’s tourist industry buoyant. India and Britain accounted for over 40 per cent of the 494,008 tourist arrivals in 2007.

India accounted for 21.4 per cent of the arrivals and Britain 19 per cent. With earnings over $410 million per year, tourism is the fourth largest foreign exchange earner for Sri Lanka.

India has been the top contributor from 2005. Indians outstripped Britons for the first time in 2005 with 113,323 arrivals out of a total of 549,308. India still is on the top with 106,067 arrivals, out of a total of 494,008, in 2007.

“Indians stay in three-star to five-star hotels. And they do a lot of shopping, unlike Westerners. So the shops stand to gain from Indians. Indians don’t drink, unlike the Europeans.

The bars, therefore, make no money, but the restaurants, especially the Indian restaurants, do,” S. Kalaiselvan, who heads the Sri Lanka Tourist Board (SLTB), explained to IANS.

He added: “Indians spend a lot on food. Indians also stay for a fair amount of time... 8.5 days being the average.”

Restaurants serving north Indian food have mushroomed in Colombo. Star hotels now boast of Indian restaurants and organise regional Indian food festivals to cater to the palates of Indians.

The availability of flights to and from India is a major factor promoting travel. There are 125 flights per week. There are flights not only from Chennai and New Delhi but also from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Bodh Gaya in Bihar.

The new Indian middle class to the existence of the picturesque country as a tourist-cum-business destination in place of Nepal and Thailand.

In 2000, arrivals from India were only 31,860, and the number swelled to 69,960 in 2002.

The vast improvement in economic ties between India and Sri Lanka since the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) became operational in 2000 has been a major factor in boosting arrivals from India.

When the Tigers attacked the Bandaranaike international airport in 2001, there was a fall in arrivals from the West including Britain, but arrivals from India went up.

A good chunk of tourists from India are businessmen. In 2006, 67.4 per cent of all tourists came for ‘pleasure’ and only 17.8 per cent for business. But in the case of Indians, the proportion was 48.7 and 31 per cent respectively.

With the FTA, business traffic from India galloped. What was only 31,851 arrivals in 2000 is today over 106,000, a three-fold increase. No other country has registered such high growth.

“The flow is two-way with 150,000 Sri Lankans going to India and 128,000 Indians coming to Sri Lanka annually. This makes the Indian routes profitable for the airlines,” Kalaiselvan said.

With the tourist board vigorously promoting the 34 sites associated with the Ramayana in Sri Lanka, the flow from India is expected to increase.

“In two years, we hope to double the arrivals from India to reach 200,000 per year,” Kalaiselvan boasted.

IANS

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