Sri Lanka’s spectacular visitor growth looks set to stall

Flight booking data shows only modest growth in early 2017

A presentation given by ForwardKeys to delegates at the Asian Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference in Sri Lanka today revealed that flight bookings made for travel to Sri Lanka during the coming five months are 1.3% ahead of where they were at the same time last year. The intelligence comes from ForwardKeys’ analysis of over 16 million flight booking transactions a day made by travel agents on the world’s major travel distribution systems.

More in-depth analysis shows a choppy pattern. Bookings for December and January are respectively 3.5% and 4.1% ahead but February and March are 9.8% and 21.3% behind. April is 76.9% ahead but this number needs to be viewed with caution because April is 4 months off and booking numbers are consequently relatively low. The likely reason for the substantial variation is that the Easter holiday season falls later in 2017.

Whilst forward bookings overall appear somewhat lacklustre, within them are a couple of particularly encouraging signs. First, forward bookings for Chinese New Year (Jan 27th – Feb 2nd) are 12% ahead.

Second, there appears to be a turnaround in enthusiasm of Russians to visit Sri Lanka, as a trend of falling monthly visitor numbers throughout 2016 is being replaced by a surge of interest. Visitor arrivals for the year to date are 26.4% down on the previous year but future bookings for November and the next five months are 13.1% ahead.

The cautious outlook is in sharp contrast to impressive visitor growth in 2016 when arrivals have grown by 11.8%, which is more than twice the growth of the Asia Pacific region, which grew by 4.9%. Looking at Sri Lanka’s major source markets, India was up 10.3%, the UK up 17.3%, Germany up 13.1%, Saudi Arabia up 8.3% and China up 29.2%. The latter figure is particularly notable when one considers that Chinese visitors to competitor destinations such as Mauritius were down 0.6% and to the Maldives down 17.6%.

Jameson Wong, ForwardKeys, Director of Business Development, APAC, said: “Our data shows that Sri Lanka deserves congratulations on a tremendous year for attracting visitors. In a competitive environment, continued effort will be needed to keep up the impressive rate of growth.”