COLOMBO • Sri Lanka's US$4.4 billion (S$6 billion) tourism industry is reeling from cancellations as travellers shun the sun and sand of the Indian Ocean island after multiple suicide bombings that killed more than 250 people last month.
Suspected suicide bombers from little-known Islamic groups in Sri Lanka attacked churches and hotels in the country on Easter Sunday, killing worshippers, tourists and their families. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Tourism, which accounts for 5 per cent of the country's gross domestic product, has suffered as tourists from around the world cancelled hotel and flight bookings, fearing more terrorist attacks.
"It's a big blow to the economy as well as the tourism industry," Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena said last Saturday. "For the economy to develop, it's important tourism return to where it was before the attacks."
Net hotel bookings fell a staggering 186 per cent on average over the week following the attacks, compared to the same period last year, data from travel consultancy ForwardKeys showed.
A decline of more than 100 per cent indicates more cancellations than bookings.
Cancellation rates at hotels across the country averaged 70 per cent as of last Saturday, with the capital Colombo taking a bigger hit, Sri Lanka's Tourism Bureau chairman Kishu Gomes told Reuters.
Average percentage drop in net hotel bookings over the week following the attacks, compared with the same period last year, data from travel consultancy ForwardKeys showed.
"Some airlines have also discontinued frequency of flights. Load factor is much lower than it used to be," he added. "It is a worrying factor for sure."
Tourism took off in Sri Lanka, which boasts a 1,600km-long coastline, following the end of the decades-long civil war with Tamil separatists in 2009.
It was Sri Lanka's third largest and fastest-growing source of foreign currency last year.
Decisive policy and security measures will be important to revive the industry and support economic growth, the International Monetary Fund has said.
For now, businesses from luxury hotels to beach shacks are facing mounting losses.
In Bentota, one of a string of beach resorts south of Colombo, occupancy rates have plummeted, according to interviews with hotel managers.
Ms Samanmali Collone, 54, runs the seven-room Warahena Beach Hotel in Bentota, where rooms cost 10,000 Sri Lankan rupees (S$78) a night. Her hotel had previously been fully booked for the day when Reuters visited last Thursday, but when news of the bombings on Easter Sunday emerged, all her guests cancelled.
"There are no bookings - this week, next month, even in October, they have all cancelled," she said, speaking in her beachside restaurant where waiters polished glasses and re-arranged tables but without any sign of any guests arriving.
Ms Collone said if bookings do not pick up soon, she will have to let go of some of her 16 employees. "We have had issues before but this is completely different," she said.