Chinese Tourist Arrivals Hit New High in Sri Lanka But Will They Keep Coming?

Chinese Tourist Arrivals Hit New High In Sri Lanka But Will They Keep Coming?

Sri Lanka s tourism industry has been riding a record-breaking surge of Chinese tourists, which has helped fuel a building boom of new restaurants, resorts and casinos. With China s economy now stumbling1, industry insiders in the South Asian island nation are wondering whether the five-year old wave is about to recede.

We are hoping it is a phase that will blow over, said Althaf Ali, vice president of sales and marketing at Aitken Spence Hotel Managements Pvt. Ltd., a Sri Lankan conglomerate whose businesses include hotels and a travel agency. There has been no change in demand (so far) but in the long term there could be a spill over effects.

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Sri Lanka s tourism sector has been expanding rapidly since the country s longrunning civil war ended in 2009. Chinese tourists have been landing by the planeload to explore the Indian Ocean island nation s beaches, temples and tea plantations.

In 2009, only around 8,500 Chinese tourists visited the teardrop-shaped country off the southern tip of India. The number of arrivals soared more than 10-fold to 128,000 last year. Before the recent worries about China s economy flared up, industry executives had expected that figure to climb to 200,000 this year. China s massive middle class has been using its rising income to explore new destinations each year. After trying the standard spots in nearby Asian countries, they were becoming more adventurous just as Sri Lanka was looking safer with the end of its civil war.

More In Sri-Lanka2

Xiaoying Zhuo, a 23-year-old English teacher from Canton, decided to visit Sri Lanka after seeing the photos of the country her friends posted on social media.

Sri Lanka is still a mysterious place for most Chinese, she said during her time in Colombo. An increasing number of Chinese tourists picked Sri Lanka as an affordable option to its neighbour, Maldives, which specializes in high-end resorts and has long been a favorite of China s rich.

We are seeing a very dramatic shift in travel patterns with mainlanders looking for new experiences, said Aaron Fischer, the Hong Kong-based head of consumer and gaming research at CLSA. Sri Lanka will be a major beneficiary of this underlying trend to more exotic locations. The flood of Chinese tourists, which had earlier hit the shores of South Korea, Japan and Thailand3, has now started to change the Sri Lankan industry. Sri Lanka s national carrier, SriLankan Airlines, launched new flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Tour companies have been hiring Chinese speakers. Hotels have been learning how to make authentic Chinese food. Restaurants have translated menus into Chinese. Sri Lankan conglomerate John Keells Holdings PLC, which operates the country s largest chain of luxury hotels, says it sells around 80,000 nights of accommodation to Chinese tourists. It expects arrivals from China to more than quintuple in coming years.

It has even started its own chartered flights to bring big groups to Sri Lanka. Tourists are attracted to Sri Lanka s old Buddhist temples, nice beaches, eco-tourism options, shopping and gambling, said Keels deputy chairman Ajit Gunewardene. Sri Lanka is coming back on the map, he said. We can offer anything. Arrivals from China have held fairly steady, industry analysts say, but it is still too early to be sure how the flow of tourists will be affected by the country s economic woes.

Sri Lanka could actually end up seeing a bonus bunch of Chinese tourists this year after the terrorist attack in Bangkok4 a preferred destination of Chinese travelers leads them to try new spots.

Chinese rate safety as a major factor when deciding in Discount Holidays © holiday destinations, said CLSA s Mr.

Fischer.

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References

  1. ^ China s economy now stumbling (www.wsj.com)
  2. ^ More In Sri-Lanka (blogs.wsj.com)
  3. ^ which had earlier hit the shores of South Korea, Japan and Thailand (www.wsj.com)
  4. ^ after the terrorist attack in Bangkok (www.wsj.com)
  5. ^ follow WSJ India on Facebook (www.facebook.com)
  6. ^ follow @WSJIndia (twitter.com)

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