Two months after terror attacks ripped through three churches and three luxury hotels in Sri Lanka, the island country has rolled out special packages at attractive prices to lure tourists from neighbouring India.
The measure is a bid to revive tourism in the pearl-shaped country, which took a massive hit following the coordinated terror suicide bombings of April 21.
The Easter Sunday blasts claimed more than 250 lives, triggering a spate of firings in the top rung of the administration. But the administration is hoping to lighten the mood now, and fire up tourism.
In an exclusive conversation, Sri Lanka's tourism minister John AE Amaratunga told DNA that five lakh Indians visited Sri Lanka in 2018, beating the footfall from China. While this year, with a slew of discounted tourism packages meant exclusively for Indians, the Lankan government expects a 25% rise in tourists from here.
To host the record number of Indian visitors, the government has beefed up security, Amaratunga said.
The tour packages feature a combination of stays in Colombo, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Dambulla, Sigiriya and South Coast, with special focus on tour diversity, he said.
The biggest selling points of the five packages include discounted airfare, accommodation and transport, ranging from 30% to 60%.
Sri Lanka has also developed the Ramayana circuit, which features several places connected with the ancient Indian epic. "We are coming out with authentic documentaries on the places in the circuit," said Amaratunga.
Allaying fears over security lurking in the minds of prospective visitors, he said, "We will ensure safety for the people who come to our country. Within a couple of days, all the culprits who were responsible for the disaster were taken into custody. All the hotels have been advised to set up apparatus to check baggage and deploy armed forces. At our ports, police are scrutinising all arrivals," the minister said.
After the attacks, there have been many high-profile visits to Sri Lanka, including by PM Narendra Modi.
Prime Minister Modi was the first foreign leader to visit Sri Lanka after the attacks, meeting Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena on June 9. Amaratunga said security of Indian tourists was something the two leaders discussed during their meeting.
"Our President, during his meeting with PM Modi, mentioned that tourism needed to be developed further and both parties agreed. We are expecting to scale down travel advisories by bringing them to zero to encourage more tourists.
The emergency is still in place not because of any threat but to carry out the necessary investigation and other inquiries so there is no repeat of the past," said Amaratunga.
Very soon, US secretary of state will arrive in the country.
Minister Amaratunga concluded by inviting the Indian film industry as well as those interested in destination weddings to Sri Lanka, which he said will keenly host both.