Lonely Planet's top destination Sri Lanka suffers a blow after blasts
Updated : May 16, 2019 11:52 AM IST
Sipping fresh coconut water while sunbathing on deserted Hikkaduwa beach, Alexi Konchayenko, a sports trainer from Ukraine, struck a stoical note. Bomb blasts can happen "anywhere, anytime," he said, adding that he was not afraid. "Sri Lanka is an amazing country. This is my first visit and I will tell my friends also to come." His is a lone voice — and a lone presence. Sri Lanka was the Lonely Planet guide's top travel destination for 2019, but since the Easter Sunday attacks on churches and luxury hotels, foreign tourists have fled. Many of those booked to come in the next few months have canceled. Hotel occupancy across the island has plummeted by 85 percent to 90 percent. The tropical beaches, restaurants and shops are empty. The coordinated suicide bombings on April 21 not only destroyed lives but also wiped out the livelihoods of Sri Lankans who depend on tourism. More than 250 people, including 45 foreigners mainly from China, India, the US and the UK, died in the Islamic State group-claimed blasts. Tourists normally come to Hikkaduwa, in the southwest, for the strong waves that are perfect for surfing and sparkling clear waters made for snorkeling. Today, of the 27 hotels, very few are open. Most, along with the eateries that line the 6-kilometer (3.7-mile) stretch of palm-fringed beach, are closed.