Political climate results in decreased tourist inflow from Lanka

Political climate results in decreased tourist inflow from Lanka

The Sri Lankan Tamils issue including frequent attack on Indian fishermen, which are taking the centre stage in the Tamil Nadu political scenario ahead of the April 24 Lok Sabha polls has taken a toll on tourism in the State with the number of both in-bound and out-bound travellers falling significantly.

Adding to the woes, the trade activities between the two countries were also affected with the businessmen reluctant to invest in the new ventures on both the sides.
The state is continuously witnessing strident protests against the attacks on Indian fishermen allegedly by Lankan Navy and few instances of Buddhist priests and tourists from the neighbouring nation being attacked by pro-Tamil groups. According to sources in the Sri Lankan Embassy, in January 2014, a total of more than 50,000 travellers from Sri Lanka arrived here. “However, in February, the number dropped to 37,000, registering negative growth of 26 per cent,” an official said. Stating that the situation further worsened in the last couple of months, he said the arrival of tourists further went down to about 25,000 in March. In 2013, during the same period, the arrivals from island nation were more than 40,000 in February and 45,000 in March. The officials fear that the tourist arrival from the island nation is expected to drop further in April and May.

However, arrival of other foreign nationals in Tamil Nadu has seen a steady increase. Tourism Department sources said in 2013, about 38 lakh people arrived to the state as compared to the figure of 35.62 lakh in 2012 thus registering a growth rate of more than 30 per cent. Almost all the political parties in the state including the Congress have taken up the issues of fishermen and Lankan Tamils in their election campaign.
Every year more than 3,00,000 Sri Lankans visit India especially Tamil Nadu for various reasons like pilgrimage and cricket. Chennai is considered as the gateway for Sri Lankan tourists to India.

Officials also attributed the drop in Sri Lankan tourist arrival to Tamil Nadu government’s decision to ban Sri Lankan players participating in IPL matches played in Chennai. Even Tamil Nadu government refused to host Asian Athletic Championships in protest against the Sri Lankan team’s participation in the event. Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalitha cited that the Sri Lankan government is repeatedly acting against the interests of Tamils living there and organising the event here would affect the sentiments of people in the state.

Since the Sri Lankans were attacked in Tamil Nadu, the apprehension now is that the island nation will pay back in the same coin. As a result, Indians too are nervous about travelling to Sri Lanka. The number of Indian tourists visiting Sri Lanka also dropped with Lankan embassy sources confirming a drop in Indian arrivals there and a negative growth of about 5 per cent.

Embassy sources said only 13,758 Indians went to Sri Lanka in February 2013 as against 14,900 during the same period the previous year. The statistics further said from January and February in 2013 a total of 85,426 Indians went to Sri Lanka compared to same period of this year’s figure of 83,981, thus registering a negative growth of 1.7 per cent.

Business travellers

“We lost 20 per cent of our business in the last six months because of poor tourist flow into Sri Lanka. To remain in the sector, we are now concentrating on Singapore and Malaysia tour packages, said Basheer Ahmed, secretary, Travel Agent Federation of India (TAFI ). He said that even the number of Tamil traders, who visit Sri Lanka frequently on business, has reduced. He said that in the case of a foreign tourist, an added dimension is the fact that spending by him/her accounts against the export from a country and the higher spending augments income through exports.

Further, attracting high-end business travellers will also bring in benefits to the tourism sector. The high end business travellers havepotential to become high spending adventure, sports and leisure tourists.

“I have invested huge money in Tamil Nadu for textile trade. Though I am scared to visit India, I have no other option,” Wikramasinghe, a Sri Lankan businessman, who often visits the state said. He hopes the situation will gradually improve. According to Chennai Commerce Chamber, the Indo-Sri Lanka trade also dipped this year. In 2012-13 it was $986.10 million compared to this year’s figure of $835.76 m.

Recently, Sri Lanka's government expressed “serious concern” and “hurt” over India's decision not to extend visa-on-arrival scheme to Sri Lankans. A minister of the neighbouring nation also said that the move had “left a bad taste” but stressed that greater diplomatic engagement was needed to resolve differences between the two governments. India currently offers visa-on-arrival to tourists from 11 countries like Finland, the Philippines, Singapore and Japan. The only exception to the new rule will be nationals from Sri Lanka. India has denied that exempting Sri Lanka from the scheme was pre-conceived.

Indo-Sri Lankan relations have not been the warmest of late with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh skipping the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting hosted by Sri Lanka in November last year. India has been strongly concerned over delayed political rights and power devolution promised to Sri Lanka’s minority Tamil population after the end of a three-decade-long civil war in 2009. The issues include allegations of war crimes, credible reconciliation and accountability measures in Sri Lanka and fishing issues in the waters shared by the two countries.

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