Colombo – Sri Lanka has teamed up with the neighbouring island paradise of the Maldives to woo tourists from China, Russia and the Middle East, officials said on Tuesday.
The Maldives, South Asia’s most exotic holiday destination, hopes the joint effort will help convince well-heeled tourists to stop in Sri Lanka and then visit the Indian Ocean atoll nation.
“The Maldives offer beach tourism while Sri Lanka offers beach, nature and cultural packages to visitors. We see synergies for joint marketing,” Maldivian deputy tourism minister Abdul Hameed Zakariyya told reporters here.
The archipelago attracted more than 600 000 visitors last year, mostly celebrities and big spenders from Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan.
Zakariyya hopes to see 690 000 tourist arrivals by year’s end.
Tourism accounts for the bulk of the Maldivian economy of just under one billion dollars (about R7,2-billion), making it the richest nation in South Asia with a per capita income of $2 674.
Sri Lanka, which attracts around 560 000 holidaymakers, has struggled to fill hotel rooms amid an escalation in violence between government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels.
Colombo is planning to offer a series of discount packages to encourage Maldivians to visit Sri Lanka.
“Around 27 000 Maldivians visited Sri Lanka last year and we hope this partnership will bring in more traffic,” said Sri Lanka’s deputy tourism minister Faizer Musthapha.
Sri Lanka’s $26-billion economy earned nearly $400-million from tourism last year, the fourth largest foreign currency earner behind tea, clothing and remittances from abroad.