Sri Lanka attracted 1,527,153 tourists for the past calendar year recording a 19.8 percent growth year-on-year (yoy), with India, UK and China leading the pack, according to statistics released by Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority yesterday.While December observed the highest number of visitors for the year at 178,672, it recorded the fifth lowest monthly growth number at 16.1 percent yoy.State holidays and travel patterns of the exploding Chinese market has contributed significantly in disturbing the traditional peak and off peak seasons of the calendar, while the decreasing demand from the Western markets has also weighed in.
December’s figures saw arrivals from Western Europe leading with 55,877, a growth of 13.9 percent yoy. Visitors from South Asia reached 45,089 with a 13.3 percent increase yoy and East Asia recorded 29,243 arrivals with an increase of 65.6 percent yoy.The UK market rose to 15,996 tourists with a 5.2 percent growth yoy, Germany t o 10,829 arrivals, with a 12 percent growth yoy and France to 7,134 arrivals with an 8.9 percent growth yoy.
Almost all other Western European countries recorded double digit yoy growth for the month, still creating a semblance of a winter peak travel season.
India provided the highest visitors for December from an individual country with 26,153 arrivals, rising 15.9 percent yoy, while the Maldives generated 14,092 crossings with a 3.5 percent growth yoy.From East Asia, 10,400 Chinese arrivals were recorded, rising by 120.4 percent yoy. Tourists from Japan increased 18.1 percent yoy to 4,041, and Indonesia by a massive 289.2 percent yoy to 5,184, showing signs of a new major tourism market.Arrivals from Eastern Europe grew by 6.3 percent yoy to 19,998 in December.
Russian tourist numbers were up 7.4 percent yoy to 9,279, against the predictions of some industry experts. However, most agree that there would be a huge downturn of Russian tourists starting from January due to a weak rouble, falling oil prices and economic sanctions.The Middle East market fell 24.3 percent yoy amid by the oil prices and socio-political upheavals. Tourists from Australasian region increased 1.5 percent yoy, while tourists from North America went up 6.6 percent.
For the year, Western Europe led once more with 429,007 arrivals, which was a 13.8 percent increase yoy.The UK led with 144,168 tourists, a 4.9 percent increase yoy, Germany followed with 102,977 arrivals, a 20.5 percent increase yoy and France contributed with 78,883 travellers, a 22.5 percent increase yoy.
South Asia followed with 370,299 annual arrivals, signifying a 13.4 percent increase. India remained the largest source country for tourists with 242,734 arrivals, a 16.3 percent growth yoy, and the Maldives came second with 86,359 arrivals, showing an 8.7 percent growth yoy.
East Asia grew by an impressive 53.2 percent yoy to 280,511 arrivals, and China contributed for near half of the figures with 128,166 arrivals, a 136.1 percent increase yoy.
Japan followed with 39,136 arrivals, a 30.8 percent growth yoy, and 29,558 Indonesian tourists were counted, a 68.5 percent growth yoy.
Eastern Europe sourced 154,153 tourists, marking a growth of 22.6 percent yoy, with Russia growing by 36.1 percent yoy and the Ukrainian market declined by 22.6 percent yoy.
Arrivals from Middle East grew by 10.5 percent yoy, North America by 10.7 percent yoy and Australasia by 7.3 percent yoy.
Meanwhile, the government has set a target of 2 million visitors to the country for this year. The slowdown of global demand and falling oil prices could have some impact in attaining the target.
However, Sri Lanka, as a relatively unexplored destination in the past 30 years could mitigate and attract curious travellers, balancing the equation.
Further, the increasing spending power of the Chinese could tilt the scales in favour of Sri Lanka, creating job opportunities in the services sector targeting China, specially with linguists.
The Chinese government appears to be persuading its citizens to increase their spending to avoid a global economic T.Chinese domestic spending as a share of GDP which is currently at 36 percent, is projected to increase to 50 percent by 2020 according to Verité Research.