Tourist arrivals ranking – Australia surges as China falls

By Uwin Lugoda

Australia climbed to second place on the monthly list of Sri Lanka’s top tourism source markets for the first time, a culmination of several months of increasing interest in the island from Australian travellers.

This rise was aided by the sharp drop in arrival figures from Sri Lanka’s traditional markets such as the UK, China, and Germany following the Easter attacks, along with a less than feared impact from it on Australian tourism sentiment.

Particularly notable in its decline is China, the second largest tourism source market for Sri Lanka, which has dropped to fourth place for the month of June.
Australia and China were two countries that placed severe travel advisories on Sri Lanka following the Easter Sunday attacks, which have since been relaxed.

The alarming drop in Chinese tourists is in spite of the Chinese Government having relaxed its post-Easter travel advisory in early June to simply “take safety precautions”. Ironically, the corresponding travel advisory for Sri Lanka in Australia, although relaxed, still urges “a high degree of caution”.

According to the reports from the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), 4,410 Australian tourists visited the country during the month of June, while only 3,496 tourists visited from China.

However, tourist arrivals from both the countries have improved since May, which saw Australian arrivals at 2,485 and Chinese arrivals at 1,589. Compared to June 2018, arrival of Chinese tourists reduced by 82.9% while Australian arrivals only reduced by 55.9%.

In 2018, the Sri Lankan tourism industry welcomed 265,965 Chinese and 110,928 Australian travellers to the country.

According to Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) Chairman Kishu Gomes, while still having lesser numbers annually when compared to countries like China, the UK, Germany, France, and Italy, the growth in Australia has been much more than the growth recorded in all the other countries.

“Over the next two to three years, Australia has the potential to probably become the second or third largest tourist generator for Sri Lanka,” he said, speaking to The Sunday Morning Business.

High Commissioner of Australia for Sri Lanka and Maldives David Holly too noted that Australia has recorded impressive growth in tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka.

“I’m very pleased to say that statistics show that Australia is No. 2 in terms of tourist arrivals, on par with the likes of the UK, and India is number one,” he said, addressing an event last week.

This recent wave of interest from Australian tourists prompted the SLTPB to capitalise on the opportunity and host a 10-day familiarisation tour for a team of 18 Australian travel and tour operators.

The tour started in Negombo on 5 July and will end tomorrow (15), with the agents covering Habarana, Trincomalee, Kandy, Dambulla, Mirissa, Ahungalla, and Colombo. It focused on cultural tourism – visiting places like Sigiriya and Dambulla cave temple – as well as showcased the beaches Down South, the SLTPB announced.

When asked about their experience, the travel agents recalled one Australian tourist who came from Melbourne saying: “We’re really happy to be here and we had a wonderful experience exploring all these historical sites, exquisite beaches, and wildlife parks. Sri Lanka is an ideal destination for the traveller. There’s so much to see and explore.”

The SLTPB hopes that this would work as an opportunity to show the rest of the world that Sri Lanka is a safe and an interesting destination to travel.

To further capitalise on the increase in Australian tourists, Minister of Tourism Development, Wildlife, and Christian Religious Affairs John Amaratunga stated at an event last week that they are having a promotional programme in Australia this October.

Sarla Fernando, a writer for the Australian travel publication Honey Travel, wrote following the Easter attacks on why more Australians should travel to Sri Lanka. She goes on to reassure Australians of the level of safety in the country as well as speak of its unique beauty and culture.

“I was in Colombo during the Easter attacks and could not believe how quickly the island began to rebound. The security response kicked in almost immediately – there was truly not a moment I felt unsafe. Like the devastating 2004 tsunami, those who thought Sri Lanka could never recover were startled to witness how quickly normal life resumed. It is why you need to visit; now, not later. The indomitable spirit of Sri Lankan people is a tourist attraction in itself.”

Sri Lanka became more accessible to Australians in October of 2017, when SriLankan Airlines launched Airbus A330-200 – the first direct flight between Colombo and Melbourne. The 10-hour flight features 18 business class and 251 economy class seats, along with a dedicated “childcare stewardess” to assist travelling families.

Australia is a country with a high per capita income and tourists who are known for high spending. In 2017, Australians undertook 9,118,000 outbound international trips. Of those trips, 5,115,000 were for holidaying purposes while 4,003,000 trips were for other purposes such as visiting relatives and business trips. Outbound international trips have nearly doubled in the past decade, increasing from 5,143,000 total trips in 2008.