The free on-arrival visa extended to China and other countries and all the other tour packages announced by Sri Lanka to promote tourism will be accepted by China to extend a helping hand to Sri Lanka to develop tourism, First Secretary to the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka, Liu Dong told the Chinese and Sri Lankan media following the completion of a familiarisation tour by 28 Chinese journalists in Sri Lanka.

He said the journalists who travelled around Sri Lanka were delighted by the Sri Lankan hospitality and also mesmerised by the beauty of the country which has a plenty to offer the world that looks for locations of this nature.

“Sri Lanka is a top destination to visit and I am certain this message will be conveyed back in China by the media delegation which is pleased by the warm hospitality extended to them from the time of arrival to date. They have a lot to tell China and surely they will go back with fond memories and lots of positive sentiments about Sri Lanka,” Dong said, adding that Sri Lanka will have more Chinese visitors to the country surpassing the previous arrival figures.

China remains a key market for Sri Lanka, bringing a large number of visitors each year. The number of travellers to Sri Lanka up to June this year was 1,008,449 of which Chinese visitors accounted for 97,560.

“For Sri Lanka, tourism means a lot as it is a major contributor to the economy. Last year, Sri Lanka recorded around 2.3 million visitors earning around US$ 4.3 billion in revenue. Sri Lanka has the potential to do much more, and I am sure Sri Lanka will attract much more than that and generate a higher revenue,” Dong said, adding that Sri Lanka will not take a long time to re-bounce although certain media reports say that it will take few years to revive the tourism industry.

According to statistics, around 280,000 Chinese have visited Sri Lanka and the relations between the two countries date back to the time of the arrival of the itinerant Chinese Buddhist monks Fa-Hsien around 1,600 years ago.

Bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and China have been strong with both countries supporting each other in various sectors. Sri Lanka supports the Belt & Road Initiative of China which has undertaken the construction of key development projects in Sri Lanka.

Head of Worldwide Sales, SriLankan Airlines, Dimuthu Tennakoon said the airline has commenced discussion with Sichuan and Xiamen Airlines to launch flights to Sri Lanka. The national carrier is also exploring the possibility of flying to Chengdu as a long term plan.

SriLankan Airlines launched operations to China with three flights in 2004 and today, it operates 15 flights to Beijing.

However, the number of Chinese tourists to Sri Lanka has been dropping this year particularly after the Easter Sunday attacks.

Sri Lanka Tourism, according to officials, has spent a significant amount on the tour of Chinese journalists who spent one week in the country. The media delegation comprised print, radio, television, electronic, social media and travel magazines. The journalists who arrived on July 18 were taken to Sigiriya, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Yala.

The 28-member Chinese media delegation was in the country to gear up publicity to promote Sri Lanka as a destination for travel. More Chinese delegations are expected after the departure of the media delegation this week.

Minister of Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Affairs John Amaratunga said China has been the highest or second highest market for Sri Lanka and added that despite the April 21 setback, China has been the leading travel market for Sri Lanka.

“We have extended the free arrival visa facility to 46 countries, including China. The free visa facility will be effective from August 1,” the minister said, adding that all travel advisories have been lifted as the country has been accepted as a safe destination to travel. Despite the Easter Sunday set back, Sri Lanka still tops the Lonely Planet’s best destination to visit in 2019.

However, despite the lifting of travel restrictions, visitors from most markets have not turned up in their usual numbers as seen by the low occupancy rates in all hotels across the country.

According to the minister of tourism development, daily arrivals have gone up to 4,000 from around 1,000 after the Easter attacks. Contesting the arrival figures per day tour guides and industry experts said the number of arrivals per day is much less than the number stated by the ministry.

Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau Managing Director Chamarie Maelge said Sri Lanka has not lost any of its beauty after the April 21 attacks and remains as a top destination to date for many travel and tour operators.

“We see recovery taking place at a faster pace than we anticipated. The industry is confident it will re-bounce soon to where it was,” Maelge said.