Sri Lanka's Tourism Minister Harin Fernando on Saturday said as things get back to normal after the recent political crisis in the island nation, the government aims to receive at least 10 lakh tourists this year, mostly from India.
Fernando, who was in Ahmedabad to promote tourism in the island nation, said religious and cultural tourism between Sri Lanka and India "will make a lot of sense".
"There are a lot of commonalities we can find with India, and we think the next year will be mostly dedicated to India," Fernando told reporters.
Sri Lanka has already logged five lakh tourists for the current year, and hopes to end the year with 10 lakh tourists, mostly from India, the minister said.
He further said 2018 was the best for the country when around 23 lakh tourists visited and generated a revenue of $4-5 billion for the country, he said.
"We have $900 million coming from the tourism sector (so far this year), and are hoping that by the end of the year we might reach about $2 billion," Fernando said.
The country hopes to end this year with 10 lakh tourists and the next year with 15-20 lakh tourists, he said.
"Till now (this year), we have had 75,000 Indian tourists coming to Sri Lanka, followed by the United Kingdom (65,000). The first two-three months were good, and then we had a very dull period between April-June (due to political turmoil)," the minister said.
Things have again started to pick up and currently, the country has been receiving close to 2,000 tourists per day (as against the peak of 7,000 per day), he said.
"Sri Lanka, some would say, is a sort of India, we are a part of India...We are the pearl of the Indian Ocean, the value of Sri Lanka would be for Indians and we need to work that out with Indians," Fernando said.
The island country is trying to work with a few ashrams in India to promote such tourism, he added.
"We are trying to bring in a big crowd at once about 2,000 pilgrims to Jaffna airport, and from there starting by road. We are looking at exploring these new avenues. We also have a lot of wellness, yoga, meditation and Ayurvedic medicines. There are a lot of values that India and Sri Lanka share," the minister said.
Sri Lanka looks to India as its big brother who has always been supportive.
"We thank the Narendra Modi government, especially at this point where Sri Lanka had difficult times in the last couple of months," the minister said.
In terms of currency exchange also Sri Lanka offers a better value for money, with one Indian rupee being equivalent to four Sri Lankan rupees, he said.
"Indians will have a better value for money while touring Sri Lanka rather than Indian destinations at this moment. Sri Lanka has a lot more to offer," he said.
Unfortunately, travellers from Gujarat look more to Far East countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand as their preferred tourism destinations, Fernando said.
Sri Lankan cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya, who is the brand ambassador for Sri Lanka tourism, said his countrymen have realised that they need to come back to normal life.
"Sri Lankans want stability with the new government. People have seen this change with the fuel crisis and gas, and we do not have long queues anymore. That is what people need," Jayasuriya said.
"We need people to visit Sri Lanka. Tourism is the main source of income for the country, which is now safe to travel. The message should go that you can travel to Sri Lanka. We are hospitable people. We want people to travel and visit Sri Lanka," he said.
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