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Travel insurance: Sri Lanka welcomes end to US travel warning

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Sri Lanka on Thursday welcomed the lifting of a US warning against travel to the Indian Ocean island, anticipating a boost to tourism and investment a year after a bloody civil war ended.

“This is something we have been looking forward to,” tourism bureau chief Dileep Mudadeniya said. “It will have a knock-on effect on (travel) insurance rates and also encourage more business travel from the West.” The US announcement came soon after the first anniversary of the defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels in a brutal military offensive that finally ended the guerrillas’ separatist campaign after 37 years of war.

The conflict claimed up to 100,000 lives, according to United Nations estimates. The US State Department said in a statement that it had “cancelled the Travel Warning for Sri Lanka due to improvements in safety and security conditions throughout the country”. Tourists were not directly targeted even during the worst of fighting between troops and Tamil Tigers, but the violence seriously affected the island’s image.

The tourism industry is now staging a dramatic revival. The number of holidaymakers arriving in the four months to April this year rose nearly 50 percent from a year earlier to just under 200,000. The industry is hoping to attract 2.5 million visitors by 2016, up from 447,890 in 2009. It is also hoping to earn two billion dollars annually in tourist revenue by 2016, up from 350 million dollars last year.

Colombo, May 27, 2010 (AFP)