RIYADH: Sri Lanka is planning to increase visitor numbers to 5 million a year in a bid to revive its tourism sector and struggling economy, according to the island’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Pakeer Mohideen Amza was speaking at an event organized by the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh on Monday to promote tourism to the South Asian country, which has faced an economic crisis and widespread social unrest since 2022.
The embassy is hoping to encourage visitors from the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, to visit Sri Lanka.
In a presentation, the ambassador shared statistics on tourism, and highlighted the country’s heritage, architectural history and natural attractions.
Tourism will contribute to the country’s economy, which has suffered because of the global pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Amza said.
“This year has started very well. I can say we had some challenging times in 2019. 2020 was the pandemic year. Then, in 2021, the tourism sector started to crumble. I think, in 2022, we started getting back, but, still, we had a bad economic situation. So, that hampered our tourism development,” he said.
However, the country had more than 100,000 visitors in January and February this year, signalling a stronger tourism market.
“We think tourism is a very important sector for our economy,” he said.
As for what visitors can expect in Sri Lanka, the ambassador said: “We are small, but we are rich in resources. And that’s what we say, come and explore.”
Asked about future projects or plans to attract tourists, he replied: “We have a plan to develop the tourism sector. It will attract 5 million tourists a year. I’m sure we need to do a lot about that. At the moment, we are bouncing back. So, come and hold our hands. Work together with us. Tourism is one area where we can work together.”
Zafra Zafeen, an embassy official, talked about the culture, food, climate and sightseeing locations in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital.
Attendees included diplomats and stakeholders from the tourism sector.
Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka on Tuesday signed a new agreement on the employment of workers, opening up more opportunities in the Kingdom for professionals from the crisis-hit island nation.