Why the Sri Lanka crisis could be a boon for Kerala tourism

 Wednesday, April 20, 2022 


The economic crisis in Sri Lanka is a cause of concern in India, with the anticipated arrival of many Lankans trying to escape the hardships of their island nation.

For Kerala, though, it presents an opportunity.

The pandemic-battered tourism sector in ‘god’s own country’ is eyeing better days by wooing international tourists to the state’s picturesque locales.

After its two-and-a-half-decades-long civil war came to an end in 2009, Sri Lanka, with its clean beaches and good infrastructure, emerged as an attractive tourist destination, giving a stiff competition to Kerala.

As one of Asia’s travel hotspots, Lanka, by one estimate, received over 2 million international tourists in 2017-2018. In 2019, it was adjudged the best country to visit by a travel magazine.

However, tourist arrivals fell drastically after the onset of COVID-19, just like anywhere in the world.

Now, the crippling economic situation has done international tourism in Lanka more damage, offering Kerala a chance to be the alternative as a ‘safe and exotic destination’.

They are drawing aggressive marketing strategies to showcase our best destinations and attract global tourists, especially from Europe.

The roadshows and B2B (business-to-business) meetings organised in Milan and other European cities have received a positive response.

The post-pandemic season will certainly be good for Kerala tourism with more international and domestic tourists visiting the state in the near future, says Dr V. Venu, Additional Chief Secretary (tourism), Kerala.

Sri Lanka, over the years, had been a favourite destination for Indian tourists as well.

Many find it much more affordable than visiting Kerala. While Lanka had received around 1.9 million foreign tourists in 2019, despite the setback of the Easter Sunday bombings in April that year, Kerala got around 1.19 million foreign tourists.

Industry experts and private players say this is far below the state’s tourism potential, and now is the time to script a change.

The Lankan crisis will favour tourism in Kerala if we can tap market opportunities. It may well take Sri Lanka some years to stabilise its economy.

So, Kerala, which can offer similar experiences, has the potential to emerge as an alternative destination if sincere efforts are made to woo global tourists.

Tour operators are exuding confidence on the basis of the steady increase in queries from European tourists since March 2022.

They are getting enquiries from foreign tour operators after a break of two years.

COVID-19 and the resultant international ban on travel saw bookings plummet in 2020-21. They had to manage with domestic travellers.

While the Ukraine war is a dampener, they are looking forward to 2022, says Jojy Mathew, Managing Director of a cruise.

Mathew says Kerala’s houseboat tourism in the backwaters has the potential to make big gains. Tourism is the lifeline of Kerala’s economy.

What works to Kerala’s advantage is that it offers varied locales that can be reached within a couple of hours of travel.

The current situation in Lanka may help Kerala win over more global tourists.

But tourists have high expectations and demand a variety of experiences, so a lot will depend on how the state government is going to chart out plans to make the state more tourist-friendly, says Emmanuel Jacob, a tourism consultant based in Kochi.

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