Caution flag flies over Sri Lanka travel

BANGKOK, 2 November 2018: Is it safe to travel to Sri Lanka following political protests in the capital?

Travel advisories are warning visitors to be cautious and avoid protest mostly near Colombo’s government offices, but they fall well short of warnings to go elsewhere or postpone trips.

Advance bookings are standing up, while tour operators are reporting only minimal cancellations, possibly because this is the peak season for travel to Sri Lanka and cancellation penalties could be hefty.

The lowest fares to Colombo are sourced in Kuala Lumpur at a bargain USD175 return. Singaporeans pay the most at USD378 roundtrip, for an identical three-hour and 30 minute flight.

The country capital Colombo was the scene of protests and violence, last week, resulting in the death of one protester and two seriously injured.

Sri Lanka is also in the news as England’s international cricket tour got underway with matches scheduled for Galle, Pallekele. The three-test series culminates in a final match in Colombo early November.

Tourism has been making a strong a recovery after decades in the doldrums. From 2010, tourist arrivals soared from a low base of around 450,000, registered in 2009, to 2,116,407 in 2017, representing eight years of astronomical growth.

It looked like the country was again a good news story in tourism and the future especially bright when it was named 2019’s best destination to visit by Lonely Planet.

Encouraged by the turnaround, travel executives confidently discussed growth during the recent ITB Asia in Singapore that should boost business from Asia, while a substantial delegation heads for the UK to attend the World Travel Market, 6 to 9 November, confident that 2019 will deliver robust tourism bookings from European markets.

However, outbreaks of violence in the capital of Colombo following political turmoil will test the resilience of the country’s tourism industry.

A flurry of travel advisories appeared on the internet. The UK Foreign Commonwealth Office updated its assessment late last week.

“On 26 October 2018 the President of Sri Lanka sought to dismiss the Prime Minister, which is expected to lead to a period of political instability. You should exercise vigilance and avoid all demonstrations or large political gatherings.”

But despite the travel advisories that caution visitors to avoid areas in the inner city where there are protests, Colombo remains a highly popular travel destination worth a stay of three to four days at least.

A glance at TripAdvisor identifies a high volume of reviews for Colombo in every category. There are around 67 hotels featured on the review site, 205 vacation rentals, a list of 178 things to do in the city and 561 restaurants that secured customer reviews.

But is air travel a bargain from gateway cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok?

Out of Singapore SriLankan has the cheapest roundtrip fare at USD378. It offers three flights daily departing at 0945, 1550 and 1950 with a flight time of three hours and 30 minutes. Both SilkAir and parent airline SQ sell an economy roundtrip for USD508. All the options are direct flights from Singapore.

From Kuala Lumpur the cheapest roundtrip fare is on AirAsia at USD175 with a 2100 departure on the three-hour and 30-minute flight. Sri Lankan offers two departures the first at 0850 with a roundtrip fare of USD217 and the second at 1605 with a fare of USD235. Malindo has a 2215 departure with a roundtrip fare of USD266.

Fares out of Bangkok are the lowest on SriLankan at USD289 for a roundtrip flight.  Travel time is three hours and 30 minutes. The airline offers three departures at 0900, 1520 and 2215.

THAI has a late night departure at 2215 that gets you into Colombo at the unearthly hour of 0010. The roundtrip fare is USD493.