MIAMI — After the horrific Easter Sunday terrorist attacks that took the lives of 253 people in Sri Lanka, the country’s national carrier, Sri Lankan Airlines, is taking no chances with safety and implementing the use of elite air force personnel tasked with protecting the public and flight crews against terrorists during flights, at the same time as trying to perform damage control on a blossoming travel industry.
“While the national air force had taken charge of ground security, the state-owned carrier was looking to bring air marshals on board some flights,” Vipula Gunatilleka, the CEO of Sri Lankan Airlines, told Euronews.
He went on to add that passenger numbers and bookings with the state-owned airline decreased dramatically by 10% in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, primarily from European visitors.
With the devastation still fresh on people’s minds, the small island nation best known for its beaches, scenic beauty and historical pilgrimages suffered not only a human toll, but one to the pocketbooks as tourists from around the world canceled hotel and flight bookings fearing more attacks.
“Some airlines have also discontinued frequency of flights. Load factor is much lower than it used to be,” Kishu Gomes, Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, told SBS News. “It is a worrying factor for sure.”
Wreaking havoc on a burgeoning $4.4-billion U.S. resort and travel trade which the South Asian country relies heavily on, resulting in 5% of the country’s GDP annually, is trying to cauterize the economic wound that is also aggrandized by a 186% drop in hotel bookings over the past three weeks.
Cancellation rates at hotels across the country averaged 70% as of Saturday, with the capital Colombo taking a bigger hit, Gomes added.
According to the country’s Tourism Authority, the projected outlook for the remainder of this year has now been scaled back to 2 million visitors, down by a staggering 500,000 people.