Sri Lanka hails ‘amazing comeback’ as it targets five million tourists by 2029

The chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau has laid out a five-year recovery plan in which the destination aims to target five million tourists by 2029.

Chalaka Gajabahu praised Sri Lanka’s “amazing comeback” following a challenging period grappling with the after-effects of Covid-19 and the country’s worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948.

Visitor numbers to Sri Lanka dropped to 700,000 last year – a substantial decrease compared to the country’s best-ever year in 2018, when 2.3 million travellers visited the island country in South Asia.

But Gajabahu remained “confident” Sri Lanka would reach its target of 1.5 million for 2023, claiming the destination had already nearly surpassed 1.2 million visitors.

Speaking to Travel Weekly at World Travel Market in London, he said: “Comparing our best year of 2.3 million and coming out of a crisis, that’s an amazing comeback. I’m confident [we can do] 350,000 [visitors] within the next two months.”

Gajabahu said the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau would unveil a new global campaign “in February or March” next year, showcasing the new tagline ‘You’ll come back for more’, as it aims to attract five million tourists by 2029.

The activity will feature an overarching digital-focused campaign as well as personalised campaigns for specific markets like the UK, targeting categories such as wellness and adventure according to booking patterns and insights.

Gajabahu admitted the destination would need to build on infrastructure if it was to meet its 2029 target.

Sri Lanka currently has 45,000 formally registered rooms ranging from two to five stars – 9,000 of which are labelled high-end – though new developments including Hilton Yala Resort and ITC Colombo One Hotel and Residences are in the pipeline.

Gajabahu said the challenge would be balancing “quality and quantity”.

He said: “For example, if we look at Maldives, average tourist spend is about $600 [a day] whereas in Sri Lanka tourists spend only $180, so it’s a matter of getting the correct spend. Of course, we need the smaller bookings and the backpackers because we have the homestays and the small properties, but we want to build a high-end category as well, so it’s [about] infrastructure plus marketing together.

“That’s the overall plan to take it forward. We have the high-end, the middle and the low end – we will attract all three segments in that five-year target.”

Touching on the economic crisis, Gajabahu said the government was “working closely” with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and said it would take “another year or two” for Sri Lanka’s economy to return to “normalcy”.

But he stressed the country was “on the correct path” and said there was “no problem at all” for travellers visiting the destination.

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