From Mumbai to Kabul to Islamabad to Jakarta to Mali to Colombo, top luxury hotels have been prime targets for fundamentalist terror.
terrorist attacks last week on several top luxury hotels in Colombo including the Shangri-La, Cinnamon Grand, Kingsbury and Tropical Inn, the plot to use terror to destabilize the economy of the popular island tourist destination has almost succeeded.
India, which accounts for the largest tourist inflow into Sri Lanka, has issued an advisory to its citizens against visiting the country.
“In view of the prevailing security situation in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of terror attacks on 21 April 2019, Indian nationals intending to travel to Sri Lanka are advised not to undertake non-essential travel,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement on April 27, adding that the nation-wide emergency and night-time curfews in place will make travelling within Sri Lanka more difficult.
Several countries including the US, the UK, Canada and Australia, that had issued travel advisories after the Easter bombing, have upgraded their advisories after continuing reports of violence.
Terrorism versus Tourism
As ideologically indoctrinated terrorists attack luxury hotel across the globe, their key objective is to maim the tourism economy of the world. Tourism economy isn’t just about earning crucial foreign exchange for the host country but most strategically about the idea of a borderless world where citizens venture out to explore a new global peace order.
Sri Lanka, which earlier experienced decades of internal ethnic strife, had by and large managed to keep its global tourism appeal intact.
About a year after the horrifying attack on Colombo airport in July 2001, this writer visited the island nation on an official offsite. While the airport showed signs of the ugly scars caused by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the capital and Bentota - the beach city - were bursting to the seams with tourists from distant corners of the world.
Amidst ongoing civil violence (which mercifully was primarily localized), Sri Lanka had managed to sustain its tourism brand. The December 2004 Tsunami, however, ravaged the nation debilitating its precarious infrastructure.
Tourism took a severe hit. It was peak Christmas season. ‘Queen of the Sea’, a holiday train from Colombo to Galle carrying at least 1,700 passengers was hit by Tsunami yielding no life. Several hotels lined up along the coast just got washed away.
Driven by their indomitable spirit, Sri Lankan people had slowly rebuilt their tourism economy converting Tsunami scars artfully into tourist landmarks.
The big boom for the tourism story happened a few years later as the Sri Lankan government declared in Parliament on May 19, 2009, that the civil war in the country was over. The LTTE was wiped out after an almost three-decade long war. Sri Lanka was again a hot tourist destination drawing big budget tourists from Europe and other advanced economies of the world.
A repeat visit for another corporate off-site in 2016 presented the island nation as a destination that was squeaky clean, warm as a host and above all available at a highly affordable price. Indian and Chinese tourists vied for local attention as Sri Lanka was determined to put its past completely behind it.
The Easter bombings have so to say have put the clock back. There is a reason for Sri Lankans to worry that the attacks would undermine its efforts to present a new global identity driven by its picturesque beaches.
The timing of the bombing is ironic. Sri Lanka has been named as the number one tourist destination by global agency Lonely Planet in 2019. Describing the island nation, Lonely Planet said, “…..Already notable to intrepid travelers for its mix of religions and cultures, its timeless temples, its rich and accessible wildlife, its growing surf scene and its people who defy all odds by their welcome and friendliness after decades of civil conflict, this is a country revived…..”
Independent estimates say that in 2009 about 45 lakh tourists visited Sri Lanka but that number rose to a record 2.3 million tourists in 2018.
Fragile Island Economy
The estimated $4-billion plus tourism business vertical accounts for about five per cent of Sri Lanka’s total economy and is its third-biggest source of foreign exchange.
It's ground impact, however, is much bigger. An estimated one million people are employed in the industry, accounting for 12 percent of the total workforce, according to a global study.
The tourism set back is bound to grievously hurt an already fragile Sri Lankan economy. The World Bank has said, “Following 30 years of civil war that ended in 2009, Sri Lanka’s economy grew at an average 5.8 percent during the period of 2010-2017, reflecting a peace dividend and a determined policy thrust towards reconstruction and growth; although there were some signs of a slowdown in the last few years.”
Notably decoding the latest Sri Lankan economy, the World Bank said, “Growth is expected to have declined to 3.2 % in 2018, down from 3.3 percent in 2017.” The Bank averred that the “challenging political environment remains a key source of risk.” This observation was made before the latest terror attack.
The advent of fundamentalist terror now poses the biggest ever socio-economic challenge to the nation that desperately and so deservingly aspires for a new tomorrow.
Rakesh Khar, senior editor, Special Projects, Network 18, is a regular visitor to Sri Lanka, most recently in September -October 2018.