Perspectives from tourists on the island right now

by J. Natasha Gooneratne

Island Paradise. The wonder of Asia. Pearl of the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka has come to be known by many names over the years, but as of April, news surrounding the island has been overshadowed by the attacks that took place on Easter Day. While authorities have arrested those responsible and uncovered the details and persons involved in the lead up to the attacks, and assured the island’s safety, the trending question around the world continues to be ‘is Sri Lanka safe?’ News portals and Government authorities provide updates on investigations and the political aspects, but there’s nothing that provides information on what a normal day in Sri Lanka now looks like nor anything that can help tourists make an informed decision on traveling to the island. We decided to talk to tourists and expats living and traveling through Sri Lanka right now to help add to the discussion.

Eric and Austin in Pettah in the heart of Colombo

Eric Heinrichs & Austin Chappell from the United States, flew down to Sri Lanka in January this year to spend time with a church community and travel the island. When the Easter Explosions occurred they were in the country’s capital, Colombo. Both opted to stay on till the end of their holiday, which comes to a close later this year. Austin explains that at a spiritual and mental level that he hasn’t felt unsafe during his time in the island nation. They both continue to make the best of their time in Sri Lanka traveling the island and connecting with different communities. Providing insight from his time in the States, he put into perspective the apprehension of some tourists to come in if they based their decision solely on what they received from the media: “In other countries especially, I’ve heard that there were certain reports that Sri Lanka is an all-out war…1 thing goes wrong and they’ll beat that thing to death on the news…they’ll show the bombing from 4 angles and they’ll make you think there were 4 times as many…but this is a small blip in the radar…I think it’s becoming even safer than it was before”

Both Eric and Austin have tried to communicate what it’s like to be in Sri Lanka right now with posts and video updates on their social media portals. Eric even released a song in the days following the explosions titled ‘As One’ which has gone viral across the country. (You can watch the entire video here: https://youtu.be/Iqx4APih2_8).

“I think back to living in the States and there are school shootings almost every other week… there’s this idea that this was the whole of Sri Lanka, but it wasn’t, it was just a few bad guys and you get bad guys everywhere” says Eric on his decision to stay on.

Eric with the neighbourhood kids

But many Foreign Governments including the United States have opted to continue with its travel advisories and restrictions for Sri Lanka more than a month after the attacks. Creating a sense of apprehension among travelers who planned to fly in. Eric explains that the cautionary picture portrayed around the world is in contrast to the situation on the ground; “Honestly now I feel 100% safe being in Sri Lanka and the people are extremely chilled, extremely loving…such a beautiful country and there’s so much to do and see and experience…even in my neighborhood just in the people celebrating Vesak, there’s a sense of coming out of this’.

Eric’s sentiments are similar to those expressed by Bengt Svensson, who has lived in Sri Lanka since 2016, moving to Negombo with his wife Annika from Sweden. “Sri Lanka is our first home, Sweden is our second” he explains. The couple lives a short distance from St Sebastians’, one of the Churches targeted during the attacks. Bengt explained that it was the first time he’d ever been faced with an attack of this nature – “…it was a devastating experience in many ways but what I hadn’t realized, was after this happens, and things go back to normal – now millions of people are suffering because of problems to their income….businesses are struggling…tourists are cancelling…this was a new experience for me”. Bengt and his wife who handle small tour groups coming in from Sweden have spent the last 3 years assisting the Lankan community in which they live in, to better grasp the tourism sector and start self-run businesses. But a month after the attacks, there is somewhat of frustration that the island’s return to normalcy is not being accurately portrayed in the media: “they are not giving the full picture. Some people ask us ‘what’s happening in Sri Lanka?’ because the news only gives you one angle…we have had this sort of terror attack in Europe and a few months later it is forgotten, we hope it’s the same for Sri Lanka” he explains.

Bengt’s assessment goes further to conclude that the atmosphere of fear that is stopping tourists from coming down is not grounded to anything factual, noting “Now is the best time to visit Sri Lanka because its safer now than its ever been, the message to get out is that people have to stop making decisions based on fear and instead rely on the facts!”. 

In a move to document the ground situation more clearly to tourists, blogger & YouTuber Steve Yalo from the United States released his video a few days ago showcasing perspectives from tourists he’s been meeting at different parts of the island during his travels. In it, he explains that although many Western countries have issued travel advisories that there is another perspective to the reality in Sri Lanka which he hoped to showcase through his video. (You can watch the entire video here: https://youtu.be/ua7JImoOd5Q).

Apart from these perspectives from the ground, it remains clear that a majority of provinces on the Sri Lankan map were completely unaffected & for the island as a whole, life is moving forward as usual. But given that many of these communities rely on tourism, the halt toward normalcy has been caused by the deficit in tourist numbers rather than in relation to safety risks. As explained by Steve in his video, with lowered prices and better deals, now is the best time to book flights into the country. With more tourists opting to fly in the hope is that the real ground situation will receive more prominence. It is anticipated that foreign travel advisories will be relaxed in the coming days, removing barriers for both tourists and the island’s industry.

If you are traveling through Sri Lanka right now or know anyone who is, we encourage you to post your experience in photos or videos with the hashtags #LoveSriLanka #IsSriLankaSafe #MyStorySriLanka & tag us on FB or Instagram.