Editor’s Blog: Is it safe to travel in Sri Lanka?
The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has removed travel warnings advising against journeys to Sri Lanka, effectively encouraging tourists to return to the Indian Ocean destination.
While this is doubtless a boon for tourism operators in the country, warnings persist over travel to the north of the island, once dominated by the Tamil Tiger resistance army.
So just how safe is travel in Sri Lanka? Breaking Travel News junior editor Chris O’Toole takes a look.
Sri Lankan Tourism
The FCO has rescinded warnings advising against travel in Sri Lanka. The move will significantly reduce insurance premiums for travellers heading to the Indian Ocean destination, while encouraging tour operators to revamp their offering in the region.
Simultaneously, however, the British government continues to advise “indiscriminate” attacks cannot be ruled out, although none have been recorded on tourists to date.
Moreover, although the official conflict is over – with the Sri Lankan army defeating the separatists in 2009, ending decades of civil war - extensive military operations are still ongoing in the country.
Minefields are still being cleared, while unexploded ordnance and weapon caches remain a problem. The security forces are also involved in the resettlement of internally displaced persons.
Travellers must also seek permission from the Sri Lankan ministry of defence before travelling to the northern districts of Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaittivu and Vavuniya.
All this is a world away from the idyllic beach destination presented in glossy brochures.
However, the move should help to boost confidence in Sri Lanka, according to Sri Lanka Tourism UK marketing manager Nabeel Shariff.
“We have gone from the height of the conflict to become conflict free in just over a year; few other destinations can claim such a turnaround.
“This will boost the confidence of tour operators, who perhaps have not consistently marketed the destination,” added Mr Shariff.
“This effectively makes us a new destination.”
This official view is supported by tour operators in United Kingdom, with Kate Glover of Sri Lanka specialist FleeWinter arguing the country has been safe for “some time”.
“Most of the tourist areas have been safe for travel for some time now and the geography of the conflict was hugely significant, but not very well explained; i.e. you wouldn’t not holiday in Cornwall because of the London tube bombings for example,” she added.
So why this lingering fear over travel to the region?
A number of sources have identified graphic media reports from Sri Lanka; colouring the whole country with images from the war torn north.
Many Sri Lankans have never visited the areas hit by the civil war and remain untouched by its consequences, but potential visitors lack the information to make informed decisions.
This is an established trend; with both Jamaica and Thailand seeing bookings hit this year as media reports illustrated violent unrest.
However, in both cases the panic was unjustified, with holidaymakers on the ground, as in Sri Lanka, reporting few problems when visiting.
It appears, then, Sri Lanka is safe to travel.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office may even be criticised for delaying its announcement, costing the country valuable tourist trade as it struggles to rebuild in the aftermath of the civil war.