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Sri Lanka tourism booms

Sri Lanka's tourism industry is expected to soar during the coming high season despite tsunami damage.

india Updated: Sep 27, 2005 12:36 IST

Sri Lanka's tourism industry is expected to soar during the coming high season despite tsunami damage, the country's struggle to emerge from a two-decade civil war and the approach of elections- which are often violent here- officials said Tuesday.

"All elections normally affect tourism," said Sri Lanka Tourist Board Chairman Udaya Nanayakkara. "But we don't expect it to affect too much this time around."

Sri Lanka has a history of violent elections, but experts said they expect the Nov. 17 presidential poll to be calm. "The previous 2004 parliamentary election was relatively peaceful, and the hope and expectation is that trend will be confirmed in this election," said Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, head of the independent Centre for Monitoring Election Violence. The two main candidates have pledged their commitment to a peaceful election.

Sri Lanka's tourist season peaks in November to April. The economically struggling tropical island nation off southern India is counting on tourists returning a year after the Indian Ocean tsunami battered it palm-fringed beaches.

"The tsunami was the worst disaster to hit the tourism industry," Nanayakkara said in an interview. "But we have bounced back."

The Dec. 26 tsunami struck amid Sri Lanka's biggest-ever effort to end its two-decade civil war with the Tamil Tiger rebels. The conflict killed nearly 65,000 people before Norway brokered a cease-fire in Feb. 2002.

Subsequent peace talks broke down over rebel demands for wide autonomy, but the truce has held despite strains. At least 31 of Sri Lanka's 48 tsunami-hit hotels and resorts are fully operational, Nanayakkara said. The tsunami directly and indirectly affected about 300,000 tourism-dependent people directly, he said.

Aggressive promotional campaigns have helped keep Sri Lanka's tourism industry from sliding into oblivion, Nanayakkara said. The number of tourists from Europe- a traditional mainstay market- has dropped after the Dec. 26 tsunami, he said. However, there has been a sharp rise in visitors from Asia, especially India, Singapore and Malaysia, he added. Just over half a million tourists came last year, and Nanayakkara said he hopes the number will rise to at least 600,000 this year and to 1 million by 2010.

Sri Lanka was set to host a special drum concert on Thursday, followed by a spice festival which is expected to entice scores of visitors next month.

First Published: Sep 27, 2005 12:36 IST