British travel advisory sparks outrage in Sri Lanka

A travel safety campaign launched by the British High Commission in Colombo targeting tourists from the UK caused outrage among certain segments of the local population and faced a barrage of criticism.

The official Facebook page of the British High Commission in Colombo on 21 March posted a picture of a number of foreign nationals travelling in a local train with the caption: “Keep your eyes on your bags. You don’t want to spend your holiday without your passport or valuables.”

Many Sri Lankan nationals commented on the post that in terms of theft, neither the UK nor Europe were safe, claiming that the theft rates in those countries were higher than in Sri Lanka.

“The probability of getting mugged in London is more than the probability of UK tourists’ property being stolen in Sri Lanka. The British High Commissioner should go to the East end or Stonebridge Park in the night to see how safe Sri Lanka is,” read the most-liked comment.

Another popular comment said: “If you travel to UK and Europe, you can’t even leave an empty bag inside a car as you never know what would happen to it. If they say Sri Lanka is not safe, Europe and UK are the least safe. At least our people will help.”

Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, the British High Commission in Colombo stood by its campaign, stating that it was part of its global travel advice service and not unique to Sri Lanka.

“Our latest travel safety campaign advises travellers to be vigilant and is in response to an increase in the number of thefts reported to us. This is part of our global travel advice service and the advice for Sri Lanka is consistent with advice for a number of countries across the world.”

According to the post, the British High Commission in Colombo had launched a travel awareness campaign this month to encourage visitors to look after their belongings on public transport as they had seen an increased in the number of British tourists who lost their baggage in trains and buses in Sri Lanka.

Under the travel advice issued for British nationals in their official website, the High Commission mentioned that there were reports of thefts from hotels and guesthouses.

“You should take precautions to safeguard your valuables, especially passports and money.”

Travellers are also advised in the website to take care of their possessions during train journeys in Sri Lanka.

The website further states: “Visitors should also be aware that there are reports of theft of travellers’ personal belongings during train journeys, including theft of briefly unattended belongings, or pick pocketing.”

The UK is one of the 39 countries which have been granted visa relaxation by the Ministry of Tourism Development, Wildlife, and Christian Religious Affairs to achieve the targeted three million tourist arrivals this year. Being the third biggest tourism source market for Sri Lanka, the UK contributed over 10% of total arrivals in 2018.

UK arrivals peaked during March and December as arrivals were recorded at 30,366 and 26,828, respectively. In 2018, Sri Lanka attracted 2.3 million tourists, 0.2 million less than its target set for the year.

The UK accounted for 11% and 12% of tourist traffic to Sri Lanka respectively in January and February 2019. Despite a volatile political environment and advisories, UK tourist arrivals grew by 13.5% in January and 8.8% in February 2019, compared to the same months last year. Sri Lanka was named the world’s top country to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet, a travel publisher, in October 2018.