COLOMBO: Sri Lanka hopes to double tourist arrivals to 1.5 million next year and bring in $5 billion in vital foreign exchange, the tourism minister said on Thursday, as the island nation seeks ways to tackle its worst financial crisis in seven decades.
The country of 22 million people, famed for its beaches, ancient temples and aromatic tea, has been struggling for months to pay for essential imports of fuel, food and medicine because of a lack of foreign exchange. "Tourism can play a major role in Sri Lanka's recovery and this is what we are aiming for next year," Tourism Minister Harin Fernando told reporters in Colombo.
Sri Lanka would likely end this calendar year with 750,000 tourist arrivals and about $2 billion in earnings, Fernando said, adding his ministry would be targeting high end tourists and introducing new products in 2023. The Indian Ocean island is also rolling back night-time power cuts in tourism zones, as the overall electricity situation improves from 13-hour power cuts earlier in the year, Power Minister Kanchana Wijesekera said on Wednesday.
Months of protests, political turmoil, power cuts and fuel queues dampened tourism in Sri Lanka just as it was recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-2022. An estimated $4 billion loss in tourism revenue over the past two years also contributed to tipping Sri Lanka into the financial crisis, according to former ministers.
Sri Lanka signed a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $2.9 bailout in early September but has to get prior financing assurances from private and bilateral creditors, including India, China and Japan before disbursements can begin.
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