Sri Lanka plans special tour packages for Indians

May 14th, 2009 - 1:43 pm ICT by IANS  

By Quaid Najmi
Colombo, May 14 (IANS) Sri Lanka, hoping soon to tide over its troubles that has been plaguing the island nation for decades, will launch initiatives to lure Indian travellers with tours like the Ramayana Trail, a senior official here said.

“We will offer new and more enchanting tourism products to showcase Sri Lanka as a land that has a lot more to offer than just beaches,” said Shafraz Farook, a senior Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau official, during a recent interaction with a visiting media team from India.

A re-aligning of Sri Lanka’s tourism strategy has been necessitated by several factors, mainly the drop in tourist arrivals after the 2004 tsunami, internal disturbances and recessionary trends, Farook said.

According to him, these factors had pulled down tourist arrivals by an average 20 percent per annum over the past five years.

“As a result, international tourists prefer destinations like Dubai, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Maldives and Mauritius,” Farook added.

Given Sri Lanka’s image as a country of beaches on all sides, it has traditionally been a hot favourite with holiday makers and honeymooners.

At the peak of tourist influx in 2003, Sri Lanka attracted over 600,000 visitors, which has now fallen to about 500,000 annually, causing concern in the industry.

The tourism promotion bureau now wants to attract more travellers to explore options that go “beyond beaches”, Farook said.

For instance, he said, Sri Lanka is perhaps the only destination in South Asia that offers diversity ranging from beaches of different types to lush green forests to cool hill stations - all situated within a few hours’ drive.

While Sri Lanka’s Buddhist Trail is well-known, the tourism department will shortly introduce a ‘Ramayana Trail’. The Ramayana Trail’s experimental tours are currently underway and the board hopes to formally launch it by June.

“There are over a thousand big and small aspects associated with the legends of Lord Ram, Sita, Lord Hanuman, the Demon King Ravana and the Sanjivani hill. We intend offering well-designed packages highlighting a sampling of around a dozen dedicated sites to tourists,” Farook said.

These initiatives are expected to bolster tourism, especially during Diwali, and winter and summer vacations in India.

As per official statistics, the country lost 14 percent tourist traffic from North America, more than 15 percent from eastern Europe and 14 percent from western Europe.

Similarly, the arrivals fell over 21 percent from Africa, nearly 24 percent from the Middle East, 15 percent from East Asia, over 14 percent from South Asia and nearly five percent from Australia.

About 105,000 Indian tourists arrived in 2007, which fell nearly 20 percent to 85,200 in 2008.

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