Sri Lanka’s tourism minister has expressed his disappointment over the cancellation of Akon’s tour of the country following public outrage about a sacrilegious video.
The R&B singer was due to perform in Colombo in April, but Buddhist activists’ angry protests outside the headquarters of the promoters earlier this week prompted immigration authorities to cancel the star’s visa.
The activists were upset after spotting scantily-clad women dancing in front of a Buddha statue in Akon’s new video Sexy Chick.
Akon has since apologised for the video oversight, insisting he had no idea about the statue, and he scrapped the Sri Lankan leg of his global tour.
But tourism chief Achala Jagoda regrets the way the situation was handled because the sold-out show would have been good for the economy.
He told reporters: “We were expecting about 5,000 to 6,000 tourists from India, the Maldives and Malaysia to watch the show.
“The mileage we would have got would have been priceless.”
While Mr Jagoda accepts it would have been wrong for the government to grant Akon a work permit amid the allegations, he insisted “this does not mean that we have a Taliban-style Buddhist following in Sri Lanka”.
He added: “Some parts of Akon’s video were not culturally suitable for us.”
Sri Lanka is celebrating the end of a decades-long civil war, with a subsequent boom in tourism now expected.
After seeing arrivals deterred by violence – and subsequent travel warnings from foreign governments – the domestic tourism industry says it is now struggling to find places for the visitors.
Most visitors are from Britain, Germany, France, India and Japan.
“Hotels are overbooked, a problem which our hotels have not experienced for a very long time,” said Srilal Miththapala, who heads the Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL).
Counting on this solid demand, many are now investing in new furniture, bars, restaurants, swimming pools and extensions.
As a result, Sri Lanka’s tourist board expects the total number of hotel rooms to grow from about 15,000 now to 22,000 in the next two years.