06/27/2008, 00.00
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Sri Lanka: tourism boom in May, despite political instability

by Melani Manel Perera
Last month showed a 21% increase compared to 2007, with the preponderance of visitors coming from southern Asia and the Middle East. A partial improvement in "general conditions" is stimulating growth, but fears remain over attacks by Tamil Tigers.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - In Sri Lanka, a boom is on in the tourism sector: according to the most recent data provided by the tourism ministry, in May the country registered a spike compared to the same month the year before, with the preponderance of the visitors coming from southern Asia, in addition to substantial numbers from Middle Eastern countries.

A spokesman for the foreign ministry has elaborated on the official data, according to which in May there were 31,140 foreign tourists - compared to 26,307 in 2007 - with an increase of 18.4%.  12,495 tourists came from southern Asia (+21.3%), while the greatest percentage increase was seen in Middle Eastern countries, an increase of 79.8%, followed by a 70.9% increase in visitors from South America.  The figures from southeast Asian countries are also strong: +34.4% from Thailand, +86% from Singapore, +72.2% from Taiwan, and 53.8% from Indonesia.

According to some of the drivers in the capital who provide transportation to and from the airport, the flood of tourism applies "as much to the north as to the south of the country", and the growth is due to "general improvement" in socio-economic conditions.  They emphasise the "natural beauty" that Sri Lanka offers, inviting tourists and visitors to "respect and preserve the country's good name and state of health".

So the balance in the tourism sector is positive, in spite of episodes of violence provoked by the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), who have been fighting for more than 30 years for autonomy in the northeastern part of Sri Lanka, and despite the military response from the state.  At the beginning of the month, a bomb placed on a bus caused 21 deaths; the LTTE were also held to be responsible for the bombing that killed nine people on May 26, at the bus station in Dehiwela, on the outskirts of the capital.

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