COLOMBO – The coordinated terrorist attacks on churches and luxury hotels on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka – in which more than 350 people died – now threatens the economy of the island nation that is largely dependent on tourism.
The country, with its pristine beaches, huge tea gardens and dense forests is one of South Asia’s top tourist destinations. People have now begun to notice how the attacks could affect their future, given the uncertainty among visitors, who now no longer see the country as a safe place.
“There was not a single person, not a single car, only troops. It was a city in pain. We got the impression of a ghost city in which residents live in fear,” French tourist Jean-Marc Ane, who arrived in the country on a visit with his wife on the afternoon the attack took place, told EFE.
On that afternoon, the city was “completely deserted, a curfew had been imposed, which is why there was nobody on the streets even though the Colombo we knew was full of life,” he added.
According to official data, of the total victims, 38 of the dead and 19 injured were foreigners, including Chinese, Danes, Spanish, British and Indians.
“This will have an impact, in tourism itself. We are looking at that. There may be some outflows (of tourists),” said Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe at a press conference when asked about the economic impact of the attacks.
He said that some tourists had left, which was understandable, but underlined that the tourism industry was functioning smoothly.
“We will give a signal when the situation is fully under control,” the prime minister added.
Tourism Development Authority Chairman Kishu Gomes told EFE that it was still too early to predict the impact of the attacks on the services sector.
Several tourist operators have already begun to experience the effects of what appears to be reduced demand, as well as the cancellation of forthcoming trips by tourists.
“If the government doesn’t take the control of the situation right now and there were to be another explosion, I don’t think that the tourism in Sri Lanka would have a good chance,” Janaka, the driver of a tourist vehicle in the city of Kandy in central Sri Lanka, told EFE.
For Janaka, the effect was immediate, as two families who had booked his services for the coming weeks canceled their trips, and he feels that it could impact his future.
“This is the only income that I have right now, so if it goes like this I will definitely have to look for another job and give up all our plans for the future,” he said.
According to data from the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism and services activity accounts for 12.5 percent of the gross domestic product of the country with a population of a little over 20 million, and provides employment to more than 1 million people.
The attacks began with six coordinated bomb blasts at 8.45 am on Sunday at three luxury hotels in Colombo and three churches around the country during Easter services.
A few hours later, a seventh blast rocked a small hotel near the Dehiwala Zoo, about 12 km south of the capital, while an eighth explosion took place at a residential compound in Dematagoda in Colombo.
Police said that they have detained 40 suspects in connection with the Easter massacre, which was claimed by the Islamic State terror outfit in a statement on Tuesday.
Sunday was the deadliest day in Sri Lanka since the end of the 1983-2009 civil war between Tamil rebels and the Sinhalese-led government.
Tens of thousands of civilians died in the final phase of the conflict, according to data provided by the United Nations.