Sri Lanka: should I still travel there or not?

Our editor HC gives her personal account on the ground from a shocked Sri Lanka

We arrived in the early morning of 19th April 2019 and little did we know that within 48 hours Sri Lanka would be blown apart by an Easter Sunday massacre that would leave the world shocked and stunned. A state of emergency has been declared and there is a heightened level of security, leaving many tourists like ourselves, uncertain about Sri Lanka’s next move. The devastation that has torn through the country has left a sadness that words cannot describe. As Sri Lanka’s heart has broken, so has ours.

My family and I have had the closest brush with terrorism. On Saturday evening, we dined at the Cinnamon Grand in Colombo, unaware that at the same time the suicide bomber was checking-in. The sound of bombs exploding shook the city but we kept safe and later reassured worried friends and family that we were all ok:

‘Thank-you so much for all your messages of concern – thankfully we’re safe. Terrible what happened in Colombo… The hotel where we had dinner last night was one of the luxury hotels where people died this morning.
Today we are spending the day at Negombo & we drove past the church an hour ago where more than 74 people lost their lives this morning celebrating Easter mass.
Soooo sad & pointless..
We wish you the best from a shocked Sri Lanka….’

My 13-year-old daughter has been scared and frightened, asking if we should leave and go home. However, we are keen to explore more of what this beautiful country has to offer, and so our trip continues.

As we drive past the hospital in Negombo where the faces of loved-ones wait outside, I question what Sri Lanka has done to deserve such an atrocity. The capital’s high walls and steel gates suggest a concern for safety, but 10 years on from the civil war and it feels like perhaps the reins on national security were relaxed a little too much. Hundreds of deaths later and I am saddened by the idea that more could have been done.

Recent memories of our trip to Egypt are hard to avoid during this time. As each day passes and the sadness deepens, Egypt’s tight security and increased caution only serves as a sharp reminder of what lessons are learned from tragic events like these. The impact of terrorism on any country is ruinous but the very slow resurgence in visitors to Egypt makes me worry about Sri Lanka’s future. We have talked to the locals and offered our support where possible, but the impact on tourism is already beginning to show. We checked into the Chena Huts by Uga Escapes yesterday and were told by the receptionist that there have already been 20 room cancellations, with many of these already paid for. Reassuringly, the hotel where we will stay next week has informed us of the below:

‘All our guests and staff are safe and we are operating normally. Our resorts are far away from Colombo, in remote areas. The resorts are full and guests are reassured that they are safe.
This is the first such incident for the past 10 years. I’m confident that security will be tightened and those behind the attacks rounded up. 
There is no risk to safety of travellers due to arrive – this was an isolated, unexpected incident.’

Despite the tragedy that has enfolded Sri Lanka over the last few days, we are still glad to be here. The island is captivating and has shown us nothing but love during this difficult time. The people have been kind and the quality of our stay so far has been extremely high. The suffering will continue to resonate throughout Sri Lanka in the forthcoming weeks, months and possibly years. However, I am hopeful that the darkness will subside and this tragic event will be ineffective in derailing the country’s tourism industry.

Would I travel to Sri Lanka now?

If you have already booked, then yes. Or even if you are considering a visit but haven’t booked yet, then don’t be deterred. It is a beautiful country, steeped in history and cultural diversity which deserves to be enjoyed. Security has been stepped-up across the island and we feel reassured enough to still continue with our trip. As time moves on, I hope the world responds with nothing but kindness, just as the people of Sri Lanka have so liberally shown my family and I.

Like many others, I hope this is an isolated incident that is a major wake-up call for security services, not only in Sri Lanka but globally. The relaxed approach to security that might have been enjoyed in the last decade is over. Sri Lanka now joins the rest of the world in its continuing fight against terrorism.