In the recent past, Sri Lanka came to be known as a popular travel destination. The country made it to the travel bucket-list of a large number of people from around the world. It was also a popular choice for Indian travelers who were seeking a quick international getaway, especially during long weekends.
Beach resorts, casinos, hill stations, and gastronomic seafood, made the island nation a preferred tourist destination. Last year 2018 also saw a rise in the number of tourists visiting Sri Lanka. It also became a popular location for destination weddings.
The country also made it to Lonely Planet’s top travel pick for 2019. While everything was looking good for ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’, one horrific incident on a solemn occasion left the country devastated.
Following the serial suicide bombings on Easter Sunday at three churches and three luxury hotels, put the country on a catastrophic failure. Claiming over 250 lives and causing injuries to hundreds of others, the terror attacks have almost paralyzed the economy of the country. The greatest loss comes in the form of several lives being lost and injured.
While panic seems to have gripped the entire island nation, the question still remains ‘Will they be able to recover?’ The answer is YES.
The country is known for its fighting spirit. Despite the 26 years of civil war between the government and Tamil separatist groups in the north of the country and mass devastation caused by the tsunami in 2004, the country did emerge stronger and was able to restore peace and communal harmony. Even in bleak situations and sporadic incidents of violence, the tourism economy continued to flourish.
Being able to transform itself from a war-torn country to a top travel destination makes Sri Lanka extremely resilient.
Though tourists are switching to safer travel destinations, the country has already embarked on the road to recovery with the aid from neighboring countries and world power nations. In the immediate aftermath, the tourism dipped by 50% whilst the cancellation of flight bookings was at over 80%.
It’s appalling that Sri Lanka’s $4.4 billion tourism industry has been badly hit following the coordinated bombings. Also, tourism accounts for 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. However, the tourism industry stands strong and is working towards resorting to the world’s faith in their beautiful island home. They are continually deploying measures to tighten security and rebrand the economy of the country.
The Sri Lanka government is working to return its tourism to normalcy. They are putting every possible effort to put tourism back on track.
The saving grace is that terrorism rarely destroys tourism for good. It only causes an immediate decline in tourism demand. In order to prevent future terror attacks or any kind of retaliation amongst communities in Sri Lanka, the government is giving the highest priority to the following national issues:
The National Security Council mechanism will be activated and the portfolios of Defence and of Law and Order will be placed in the hands of those who have the capacity to provide leadership. The government also plans to launch a 24-hour media response center that will respond to false reports that create fear among the general public.
Revival of the economy
The government aims at formulating a national policy for the revival of major sectors such as tourism which is currently the most affected after the bombings.
Decision making in Government
To ensure speedy and sensible decision making, only persons with the required competence should be appointed to key positions. The government plans to re-examine the capabilities of current holders of those positions.
Effective communication strategy
The need of the hour in Sri Lanka is to inspire confidence in the people of the country as well as internationally. Only when the government makes such efforts will they be able to reinforce the pursuit of vital economic objectives including attracting investment, attracting tourists and emerging as a country that has systems and processes.
The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau (SLTPB) is also in the process of hiring a global public relations agency in order to carry out a communication strategy. The tourism industry is also looking at the government to provide a public security statement in order to update foreign governments.
Besides the above long-term measures, here are some of the other measures that were taken immediately following the bombings:
- The Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs Minister personally visited those injured in the hospital and looked into their welfare and immediate requirements.
- The government offered assistance to all victims, the damaged places of worship as well as the hotels affected by the attack.
- The government deployed 15,000 troops on the ground to provide immediate assistance.
- A comprehensive security plan was created to ensure the safety of tourists in hotels, beach resorts and places of tourist interest.
- Sri Lanka Tourism appointed a special representative to the hospitals where injured tourists were receiving treatment post the attacks.
- Three special representatives of Sri Lanka Tourism were also stationed at the Bandaranaike International Airport to assist tourists both arriving and departing.
- Teams were deployed at hotels and airports to assist stranded tourists with hotel transfers, airline bookings, reuniting with their loved ones, itinerary changes and offering hospital treatment.
- They also released an emergency local hotline number to assist tourists in Sir Lanka – 1912 and an emergency hotline to assist families of affected foreign nationals +94 11 2322485.
- Only to make sure that the nation was not misled by unverified reports/information, the government blocked a range of social media sites. Internet shutdown was used as a tactic by the government to control online expression. Social media channels such as WhatsApp, YouTube, Viber, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger were down.
In the following months, the government of Sri Lanka will constantly need to reassure the people that they are always there to safeguard its people from acts of terrorism. This will only happen when all the political parties work together collectively setting aside their political differences and giving highest priority to national issues.
With Colombo reeling from one of the deadliest terror attacks, it is imperative that neighbors in the international community came forward and offered support to help rebuild the lives of those affected by the attacks. World leaders too expressed shock and grief at the bombings.
Following the attacks, embassies of various countries came together to offer assistance and aid to those largely affected by the terror attack.
- The Hungarian government announced that they will offer EUR 28,100 in emergency aid to people gravely injured and children orphaned by the attacks. Besides this, the Hungarian government also said that they will look into providing other forms of large-scale assistance to the people of Sri Lanka.
- The Israel Prime Minister too came forward and was willing to send aid to help the Sri Lankan authorities handle the aftermath of the attacks.
- Prime Ministers from Pakistan, India, Britain, Russia, France, and the USA also expressed sadness and condolences in connection with tragic consequences of the terrorist acts.
- The Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) also offered support to local aid experts on the ground. The agency decided to work alongside Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, Christian Aid, and other faith agencies. They decided to address the needs of the families affected by the bombings by establishing psychological centers that would offer trauma counseling and practical assistance to the affected communities. The organization focuses on promoting peace and reconciliation at the grass-root level to help communities’ breakdown barriers.
- The Sri Lankan Red Cross too came forward to help victims contact their loved ones, coordinate blood donations and provide psychological support. The President of the Sri Lankan Red Cross Society also released a message touching upon the emphasis of donations right now to help those affected by the attack.
The Colombo massacre is a devastating reminder of the prevalence of religious intolerance. Numerous world leaders referred to the bombings as an act of genocide.
To stand in solidarity with the people of Sri Lanka, numerous buildings around the world were illuminated in Sri Lanka’s colours, some of which included the Flinders Street railway station in Melbourne, the Opera House in Sydney, the Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, the Northern Spire Bridge and Penshaw Monument in Sunderland, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Emirates Palace, ADNOC Headquarters, Capital Gate and Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi, the City Hall in Tel Aviv, the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg and the Sky Tower in Auckland. The Eiffel Tower in Paris went dark as a memorial for the victims of the bombings.
How you can help?
It’s true that the Colombo bombings took the lives of hundreds of innocent people. But now is the time when the global communities need to rally together to help the local communities. Here’s what you can do:
- Donate to relief organizations: With the Easter Sunday bombings, hundreds of lives were affected and it will take months and years to recover from the loss of life, injuries, and trauma. International relief organizations such as Red Cross are constantly working towards providing material assistance and staging blood drives.
- Volunteer: If you are near Colombo, you can even choose to volunteer to help out those in the affected areas. This could mean carrying and delivering supplies, helping at hospitals, taking care of children or caring for the elderly. Volunteer Sri Lanka is on the lookout for volunteers.
- Promote tolerance: No matter which country you belong to across the world, you too can play your part. The bombings are a sheer reminder of the prevalence of religious intolerance, prejudice and social division across the world. The only way to put an end to this is by countering this hatred and spreading tolerance and acceptance. Counter people who spread misinformation and prejudiced views and focus on breaking bridges between communities.
Hatred is never the answer; love is the only solution to put an end to ghastly incidents and events like these.
During a recent interview, Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena revealed that 99% of the suspects in Easter Sunday attacks on churches and hotels had been arrested and their explosive materials seized and that it is safe for tourists to return to the Indian Ocean island nation. He also said that the country is in a safe position right now.
The Sri Lankan Tourism Department also released a statement to reassure the world that the country is open for business as all possible security and safety measures were taken. The statement also read that the world-famous tourist sites, hotels, resorts, and beaches will also be open as usual.
To conclude, all we would like to say is that we stand strong with Sri Lanka. We believe in the country’s multicultural nature and its ability to rebuild what has been destroyed with renewed vigor. There is absolutely no place for terrorism in the country.
If you have planned trips to the country in the days, weeks and months ahead, go ahead and enjoy the beauty of the island nation. It’s worth seeing how the people of Sri Lanka keep on smiling even in the darkest of times. Nothing in the world can break the spirit of this beautiful nation.
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