“We want at least 4-5 more China’s airlines to come.” Said Felix Srimal Rodrigo, Minister of Tourism Development of Sri Lanka，in an exclusive interview with Asia Pacific Daily.
According to him, tourism industry has ranked first in Sri Lanka’s economy and Renminbi has become the mostly used foreign currency. “The export of Sri Lanka’s traditional product like Ceylon tea, coconut is going down. Now we rely on tourism.”
Sri Lanka’s tourist arrivals grew at an unexpected rate of 6.6 percent in January 2015 from January 2014, official data released by Sri Lanka’s Central Bank.
“In 2016, we want to double the tourists’ number of this year.” Felix Srimal Rodrigo said,“in the next three years, Sri Lanka is going to depend on tourism. We target 2 million tourists for 2015 and we have already got 1.9 million tourists, only 1000 left. Next year we target 3 million and in 2020 the target is 4 million.”
According to the latest data, China has become the biggest source of tourists to Sri Lanka, and the government is now doing more to attract a larger crowd.
In 2015, Sri Lanka has 80,000 Chinese tourists. Cooperation between Sri Lanka and China has recently been witnessing “a very big development”.
To take an example, currently Sri Lanka has more than 40,000 hotel rooms for tourists. Chinese are common in the reception or in the kitchen of hotels. Chinese breakfast could be found in most hotels.
“China and Sri Lanka have very similar history and culture. Sri Lanka officials and Chinese officials are in a very close relationship. That is why Chinese could live well in Sri Lanka.”
However, Felix Srimal Rodrigo said: “the target could only be achieved with more airlines”. Sri Lanka is an island country, which means tourists can only come by plane, nor ship or any other means of transportation.
Sri Lankan Airlines has at present been operating three weekly airlines between China and Sri Lanka. “We should have more Chinese airlines coming here. China is a big place, we want at least 4-5 more Chinese airlines.” Said Felix Srimal Rodrigo.
Air link has a great impact on the tourism industry. He told Asia Pacific Daily, to open more airlines also meets Sri Lanka’s Tourism Development Minister and Prime Minister’s expectation.
“Currently the negotiation with Chinese government is going on”. Next month Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe will go to China to conduct big travel promotion. It is expected to expand air links following talks this week. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka government is also negotiating with travel agency to open more airlines.
“Yet to open a new airline could not be realized in the immediate future, it takes at least 8-10 months.” Felix Srimal Rodrigo claimed.
According to him, the Sri Lankan government is striving to make more open policy to attract Chinese tourists.“We want more Asians, especially more Chinese. That is government’s plan. Chinese young people have money and they travel.”
This is reflected in Sri Lanka’s open visa policy. All short term visitors and transit passengers to Sri Lanka could obtain ETA visa with $30.00 only.
Sri Lanka still has spaces left for the coming Chinese. “We have two airports now, one has billions of Chinese, yet the other is empty.”
Compared to before, Sri Lankan government gives more permission for Chinese. “They are allowed to open schools, building hotels, halls, and other infrastructures. Their investment is everywhere. ”
“Tourism is bread winner for Sri Lanka, we are going to make Sri Lanka top tourism destination.” Felix Srimal Rodrigo concluded. (Lingna Zhou)