Colombo, Nov 29 (EFE).- A luxury cruise ship carrying 2,000 visitors docked in Sri Lanka on Tuesday, reviving tourism prospects on the island battered by the long-term effects of coronavirus lockdowns and months of political instability this year.
Mein Schiff 5 arrived in Colombo days after luxury cruise liner Viking Mars docked at the port last week, sparking hopes that the struggling tourism sector might finally be moving towards its pristine days.
Tourism Minister Harin Fernando told Efe that it was “heart-warming” to see the luxury cruise in Colombo.
“Having a cruise ship in the country is similar to having 10 aircraft full of tourists,” the minister said.
Last week, the Norwegian luxury passenger cruise ship Viking Mars arrived on the island with some 1,000 people on board.
The minister said luxury cruise liners began to operate on the island after a six-month hiatus.
Sri Lanka suffered months of social unrest as deadly anti-government protests hit the island, with people angry over the alleged mismanagement of the economic crisis.
Minister Fernando said the country expected two to three more passenger ships in December.
“The cruises will build a positive image of the country through word of mouth. That is what the country needs now,” he said.
Passengers of the Mein Schiff 5 will travel to Hambantota on the southern coast, where 100 jeeps will take them on a safari ride in Yala, a popular wildlife destination.
Speaking to the media after arriving in Sri Lanka, a German tourist onboard the luxury cruise said she had a wonderful journey.
“We were here four years ago too,” she said.
According to statistics from the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, 42,026 tourists arrived in the country in October 2022, compared to nearly 22,000 during the same period last year.
The tourism authority said 568,268 international tourists visited Sri Lanka this year as of Oct.31, mainly from India, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Australia.
The Sri Lankan tourism sector seems jinxed as it suffered three consecutive blows — first by the 2019 Easter bombs, then two years of the pandemic, followed by the island’s worst economic and political crises in decades this year.
The Easter Sunday attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels left 269 dead, including 40 tourists, drastically reducing the arrival of tourists in the following months.
The bombings came as the island of idyllic landscapes and white sand beaches was on pace to boost tourism after more than 20 years of civil war, which ended in 2009.
Tourist arrivals declined to 1.9 million that year as the sector had become one of the largest foreign-exchange earners in the country.
Then came the coronavirus, and the country closed its borders, reducing visitor arrivals to 500,000 in 2020 and 200,000 the following year.
When everything appeared to be returning to normal, the island was hit by the worst economic meltdown in decades.