On Ramayana trail, young Indians help revive tourism in crisis-hit Sri Lanka

NEW DELHI:: Indians going on Ramayana trails and tours are taking religious tourism to a new level in Sri Lanka, prompting the island nation to look to uncover and promote more religious sites and temples to increase tourist footfalls.

The demand has gone up ‘extensively’ and as per estimates, from October last year to March this year, out of 370,577 tourists, about 60-70% were Ramayana trail visitors, said Zahra Mahroof, assistant manager, sales and operations at boutique Sri Lankan tour operator Tour Blue.

“Some of the new sights include the Thirukethishwaram temple, Ram Sethu (Adam’s Bridge), Dolukanda (Sanjeewani mountain), Chariot path, Sita tear pond, Dunuwila lake, Cobra Hood cave, Yahangala mountain, and Vishnu Devala,” she said.

India is the largest tourist source market for Sri Lanka, which is yet to recover from its worst financial crisis in decades that pushed it to bankruptcy status last year. The country received 720,000 tourists last year and the target is to get 1.55 million tourists.

Saujanya Shrivastava, chief operating officer of flights, holidays and gulf cooperation council at MakeMyTrip, said there has been a growth of over 150% in queries for the Ramayana trail packages so far this year compared to last year, surpassing the pre-Covid figures.

Earlier, it used to be mostly senior citizens who went on Ramayana trails. That is changing.”We have seen an uptick in demand from segments like the millennials,” said Rajeev Kale, president and country head for holidays, MICE and visa at Thomas Cook (India). “We have also managed corporate MICE groups to Sri Lanka with additional queries in the pipeline.”Thomas Cook has seen a 35-40% rise in demand for the Ramayana tours compared to last year, he said.

Sri Lanka’s Tourism Promotion Bureau has issued a number of special videos and brochures for promoting Ramayana trails over the past year.

“At times, we are getting groups of 500-600 travellers and devotees coming in with their spiritual gurus,” I J Jude Marsalin from the bureau said. “We are trying to develop and promote these spots to make them more accessible. People want to know more about the Ravana from Sri Lanka and have started to research more,” he added.

A lot of enquiries are also coming in from high-end clients, executives said.

“Sri Lanka is bouncing back as a tourist destination through powerful narratives like the Ramayana trails and also because of its natural beauty,” said Amit Chawla, director of Luxury Living India that has close partnerships in Sri Lanka including the Aman Hotels & Resorts and the Resplendent Ceylon Collection.

Daniel D’Souza, president and country head for Holidays at SOTC Travel, said India is a high potential market for Sri Lanka and Ramayana trails are a critical driver influencing travel demand to the island destination. “Over the past year, we have witnessed a 20-25% growth in demand for our Ramayana trails products,” he said.

© The Economic Times

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