With new warnings about ongoing terrorist threats in Sri Lanka, the country is bracing for a drawn-out collapse of what had been a promising and steadily growing international tourism industry.
Tour operators last week continued to cancel or put on hold trips to the country following warnings by the U.S. and the U.K. against nonessential travel in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings at churches and hotels around the country that killed more than 250 people.
"Terrorist groups continue plotting possible attacks in Sri Lanka," the U.S. State Department warned on April 26, nearly a week after the attacks, when it elevated Sri Lanka's travel advisory to Level 3, "reconsider travel," and ordered the departure of all school-age children of U.S. employees out of the country. "Terrorists may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, markets, shopping malls, government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, major sporting and cultural events, educational institutions, airports, hospitals and other public areas."
Immediately following the attacks, cancellations of bookings to Sri Lanka surged by 86.2% while new bookings plummeted, according to an analysis by ForwardKeys.
And the chairman of Sri Lanka's Tourism Bureau, Kishu Gomes, said the continued fallout would likely result in a 50% drop in tourism to the capital of Colombo over the next two months and a 30% drop in tourism to the country overall, according to an April 29 Reuters report.
Experts said it's too soon to predict what the long-term impact may be on tourism, but tour operators said they were heeding government warnings and working to reroute guests to other destinations.
Abercrombie & Kent said in a statement that it was following the guidance of the U.S. and U.K. governments and that "based on the current travel advisories, we are suggesting that they postpone their planned journey or choose a different destination." The operator said it was in process of contacting clients with Sri Lanka bookings in the coming weeks to discuss their travel arrangements. A&K did not say if or how many trips had actually been canceled.
G Adventures, which offers 11 itineraries to the country, said that immediately following the attacks it rerouted tours that were ongoing to avoid Colombo and canceled all departures through the end of April. Its next scheduled trip is not until June 23, and the company said it would re-evaluate the situation in mid-May.
Before the bombings, G Adventures said it was experiencing a 13.4% increase in bookings to Sri Lanka this year.
"Since the attacks, our call center reports only a handful of travelers phoning in to change or cancel their Sri Lanka tours," the company said on April 30. "We sincerely hope further changes will not be necessary and that security will return for the residents and visitors of this beautiful country. However, we will respect and honor the wishes of travelers who may prefer to wait until a later date to experience all that Sri Lanka has to offer."
Last week, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based tour operator A&S Signature Journeys canceled a June familiarization trip to Sri Lanka and said it would be monitoring the situation in advance of its other scheduled departures, which it said are "very far out in the future."