Sri Lanka — Tourism Performance & Opportunities for Growth

In Sri Lanka, airlines are the most important form of transport, bringing in 99% of international tourists to the country. At Euromonitor, we’ve seen improvements in infrastructure and air connectivity. More direct flights, open skies policy, low-cost carriers and smoother immigration process.

Sri Lanka tourism performance experienced dramatic growth since the civil war ended in 2009, from a mere half a million tourists to now passing two million mark in 2016. Tourism is fast becoming a key growth to the country, following garment industry and remittance from overseas workers.

India and China have been the leading source markets with most number of tourist arrivals. Sri Lanka is a cheap holiday destination to the booming middle-class in the Indian population. More than 350,000 Indians travelled to this neighbouring island in 2016. Whereas, over 270,000 Chinese tourists visited Sri Lanka. It has been largely benefited by increased direct flights between Colombo and major Chinese cities.

On other hand, a bulk of international tourists come from Western developed countries such as UK, Germany, France, Australia and the US, and contribute close to half of the tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka. Travellers coming from these sources markets are mostly very experienced and well-equipped with traits and behaviours of New Consumerism trends.

Air connectivity and capacity

Travel is all about proximity. Many destinations in South Asia are just within three hours plane away. Asian travellers are increasingly taking shorter but more frequent holiday trips. Long haul travellers often visit multiple countries during their travel to the region.

Rising hot destination in Asia, Sri Lanka has the strategic geographical location, with close proximity to the world’s most populated countries such as India, China and Indonesia, and alongside with other developed destinations such as Thailand and Maldives. However, despite the prime location, air connectivity has been the major barrier for growth. To cater buoyant leisure and business inbound travel, Sri Lanka needs to continue partnerships with neighbouring destinations to accelerate intra-regional travel, increase flight frequency and upgrades of domestic airports as well as other infrastructures.

Experiential Travel

Following the New Consumerism trend — Experience More that embraces adventure, culture and heritage, health and wellness. Sri Lanka is well-positioned to be marketed as an authentic destination for experiential travel, especially adventure tourism.

Sri Lanka is a land truly blessed by nature, with a wealth of untouched wilderness and wildlife habitats. Sri Lanka wildlife tourism has the potential of being the best wildlife tourism destination outside Africa. The country is also internationally boasted for having the largest Asian elephants, the largest marine animal — the blue whale, and the largest population of leopards. More and more travellers from fast-growing emerging outbound tourism markets especially China are attracted to destinations by something unique about the places, and willing to travel extra distances. However, conservation and protection of wildlife become extremely crucial. Instead of animal sighting, tourism sector needs to cultivate an experience of discovering and understanding wildlife habitats to travellers.


Although Sri Lanka is a small island, its biodiversity is significantly important on a regional and global scale. The island is one of the 25 biodiversity hot-spots around the world. Following behind Bhutan, Sri Lanka has the second-largest protected areas of national parks and forests in Asia. These protected areas are huge economic assets that strengthens Sri Lanka’s position in sustainable tourism growth. To continue develop ecotourism, with combinations of wildlife preserves and cultural heritage, will be able to attract mindful (and ethical) travellers from mature Western source markets. This gives Sri Lanka competitive advantage over other destinations such as Philippines and Thailand. Mindful travellers are often experienced and well-travelled around the world. They come with high social consciousness. Therefore, focusing on developing Sri Lanka as a high-value ecotourism destination and paying attention to the carrying capacity are the most sustainable way forward. And this requires increased co-operations between national government and local authorities and communities.