Sri Lanka welcomes Arab tourists, says visiting official

Sri Lanka is an ideal tourist destination for Saudis who wish to go on a family holiday, a visiting official from the Sri Lanka Tourism Board told a packed audience at the Holiday Inn Al-Qasr here Monday.
He was making a presentation as part of a road show on the eve of the Riyadh Travel Fair which began Tuesday.
Sri Lanka Tourism Board Assistant Director Ajantha Bandara said that the number of Saudis traveling to Sri Lanka has been rising in the past reaching around 37,000 in 2016.
“This is a country where Arab visitors can enjoy Halal food and can feel at home due to the large number of mosques as well as the islanders who will welcome the visitor with a warm smile,” he said.
The first mosque, Abrar Masjid in Beruwela, some 40 kms from the capital was built by early Arabs, who visited the island as traders, he said, pointing out that 10 percent of the 20 million population is Muslim.
In his brief speech, Sri Lankan Ambassador Azmi Thassim said that his country is an attractive destination for both Arabs and western tourists. “We also get a large number of tourists from China and our close neighbor India,” he added. Saudis are given on-arrival entry visas at the Colombo airport at a nominal fee of SR 135.
Sri Lankan Airlines Manager for Central Province Sathira Ariyaratne said that the airline operates 18 flights weekly from the Kingdom, including seven daily flights each  from Jeddah and Riyadh and four from Dammam. “We also have convenient connections to major Indian destinations, Maldives, China and to Far-Eastern countries,” he concluded.
Sri Lanka received 707,924 tourists in the first three months of this year, an increase of 17.1 per cent compared with the corresponding period last year, according to Minister of Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga .
India, China, Germany, France and the UK are the biggest tourist markets for Sri Lanka.
Quoting the latest statistics released by the Sri Lankan Tourism Development Authority, he said the country received 233,382 tourist arrivals in March.
Two lucky winners among the guests of the road show received seven days accommodation and air tickets to and from Colombo from Sri Lankan travel agents.

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