India has turned out to be the number one source market for Sri Lanka, followed by China, as during the first six months of this year, the total number of Indian tourists who visited Sri Lanka crossed 2 lakh.
Looking for the next holiday destination? Forget India, it is the neighbouring island nation of Sri Lanka, which has emerged as the best country in the world to visit in 2019 by the Lonely Planet. Sri Lanka’s popularity is on the rise, especially among Indians, and is giving popular Indian destinations such as Goa and Kerala a run for the money. The primary reason for Sri Lanka becoming a hot favourite holiday attraction is that it offers travellers a plethora of options ranging from hill stations, beach escapes, adventure activities, historic sites to culture and cuisine. The small island nation caters to all ages.
According to the figure by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, tourist visits to Sri Lanka have risen dramatically from under 4.5 lakh in 2009 to an all-time high of 21 lakh last year, the Lonely Plant reported. This is also expected to further double by 2020.
Interestingly, India has turned out to be the number one source market for Sri Lanka, followed by China. During the first six months of this year, the total number of Indian tourists who visited Sri Lanka crossed 2 lakh, which is a 15.3% growth compared to the same period last year, indicating the growing interest amongst Indians to travel to Sri Lanka, Karan Anand, head, relationships, Cox & Kings Ltd, told FE Online.
Why is it getting popular?
Sri Lanka offers many attractions to tourists, and those who want to travel to an overseas destination for the first time prefer Sri Lanka. “The first stop is Colombo which has a vibrant nightlife, casinos and great food. Thereafter, they travel to Bentota which has one of the best clean sandy beaches, where one can dive into water sports activity — be it jet skiing, diving, surfing or bodyboarding. People then travel to Dambulla to visit the Cave Temple and Spice Garden. Kandy is famous for its hills and mountains and it gives a panoramic view of the destination,” Karan Anand told FE Online.
Sri Lanka is also a year-round destination and what is interesting is that it offers a neat opportunity for the weekend and extended weekend breaks, and therefore there is potential for repeat visits. “Several factors such as easy direct access, attractive airfares (LCC and full service), a range of hotel accommodation across categories — a fit with every consumer price point/budget and visa on arrival, has played a key role in seeing Sri Lanka rank high on the Indian leader-board,” Rajeev Kale, President & Country Head, Holidays, MICE, Visa & Passport Services, Thomas Cook (India).
Since the end of militancy in Sri Lanka, there has been a complete turnaround and the Sri Lankan government has encouraged tourism from India to Sri Lanka. Some of the measures taken by the government include easing the visa process as one can now apply online and get an E-Visa within a period of 30 days.
“Sri Lanka is making it easier for visitors from India with the help of various policies like Open Sky Policy, allowing local carriers unlimited access to six Indian hubs – Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bengaluru and Chennai – as well as giving Indian carriers greater access to Sri Lankan routes,” Manmeet Ahluwalia, Marketing Head, Expedia (India), said to FE Online. Ahluwalia added that the Sri Lankan government is also considering visa-free arrival to Indian travellers, which will make it easier for travellers to visit the neighbouring country.
Sri Lankan Airlines flies from 14 Indian destinations to Sri Lanka and have approximately 135 flights to the destination. All Indian airlines, be it full-service carriers like Air India, Vistara and Jet Airways or low-cost carriers such as SpiceJet and IndiGo connects from India to Sri Lanka.
Comparable destinations in India
Indian beach destinations like Goa and Pondicherry can be compared to Sri Lanka’s Kandy and Unawatuna while one can visit monasteries of Anuradhapura and Polgahawela, similar to Tawang and McLeod Ganj in India. On the other side, “Southern hill stations of Coorg and Kunnur are well depicted by Sri Lankan hill stations like Nuwara Eliya, Ella and Bandarawela. One can also enjoy Kerala like the experience of elephant rides in Sri Lanka at Habarana and Yala national park,” said Ahluwalia.
There are various reasons for Indians turning to Sri Lanka, instead of popular destinations in the country like Goa or Kerala, and that includes similarity of culture, affordability, proximity with India, alluring beaches and stunning landscape. When compared with destinations in India like Goa or Kerala, Sri Lanka offers more both budget wise and otherwise, Rajeev Kale suggests. There are people who would skip Kerala and go to Sri Lanka as the attractions can be comparable.
Any role of Sri Lankan rupee devaluation for the increased interest in the country?
The proximity and similar history makes Indians eager to travel to the neighbouring country and experience the mythology first hand. Also, given the current volatility in Indian rupee, Sri Lanka has become a little affordable as one Indian rupee can buy about 2.5 Sri Lankan rupees. “The depreciating rupee has put the spotlight on domestic India and the Sub-Continent and when coupled with buying power (the strength of Indian Rupee vs the Sri Lankan Rupee), Sri Lanka has clearly benefited,” Kale added.
Places to visit:
Colombo/ Bentota/ Nuwara Eliya/ Kandy/ Arugam Bay/Anuradhapura/Sigiriya rock fortress/The Cultural Triangle of Polonoruwa, Sigiriya and Dambulla