In recent weeks, the U.S. Department of State has relaxed its recommendation to tourists while the UK Foreign Commonwealth Office has officially removed the destination from its risk list, thus providing a new wave of hope to Sri Lankans whose national economy depends mainly on the tourism sector.
The attacks over the Easter weekend led to a series of understandable travel cancellations; but today, although caution is still required in some areas, the situation on the ground has stabilized and life has returned to normal.
“The fears of the first weeks have passed; today we must work hand in hand with the Tourist Office, the government and various members of the sector to promote the destination again. We hope that the situation will return to normal soon and that is why we want to act collectively, with our partners on joint communication efforts to promote this incredible island that we love and adore” said Jeremy Grasset and Alex Le Beuan, directors of the Shanti Travel agency.
Based in Sri Lanka for several years, Emilie, Juliette and Julie are Travel Experts at Shanti Travel. They will share with us their experiences and thoughts two months after the events as well as their profound attachment for this island and its inhabitants.
Your adopted country has recently experienced tragic events: what was your feeling in the moment?
EMILIE : Sunday April 21st was a long day, watching the images on the Sinhalese channels trying to understand what was going on outside. Then surprise and shock gave way to a lot of sadness, it’s still pretty hard to find the words to explain what I felt that day. It was emotionally charged, and those emotions stayed with me for a few days.
JULIETTE : At the very beginning it was mostly confusion, then shock at learning the scale of the attacks, affecting places that we regularly visit. Not being in Colombo at that time, I was not scared for myself but for my friends and colleagues who were there. I quickly learnt that everyone was fine.
JULIE : Unfortunately these are things that happen everywhere in the world, if we could predict them then they would not happen anywhere.. The police knew how to act quickly and efficiently in the weeks that followed these events.
What were the reactions of locals, expatriates and travellers?
EMILIE : The Sri Lankans had the same reactions as us – but they were much more afraid. Schools were closed for two weeks and the curfew was only lifted after several weeks.
The expats living here and our travellers are able to see the big picture, knowing that unfortunately these days, attacks like this can affect any country. The travellers who were in Sri Lanka during the attacks were able to peacefully continue their journey without any incidents.
JULIETTE : The Sri Lankans are of course deeply hurt by these events, and some were very frightened during the week that followed, avoiding going out of their homes or moving around Colombo. However, we feel the will to move forward on their part, and to leave this tragedy behind them.
I kept in touch with my travellers who were on the island at the time. Some showed concern because they were travelling with their children, but all of them quickly relaxed when they saw that nothing was happening in the places where they were. Many spoke of the attacks in Paris and Nice, and shared their understanding that an event like this could happen anywhere. I called them very regularly to hear from them and pass on recommendations from the embassy. All were able to continue their tour as planned and enjoy their holidays.
JULIE : I was with my Sri Lankan family when the attacks happened. We watched the news all day to follow the progress of the events. I stayed one more night at home instead of returning to Colombo because it reassured them. My sisters went back to work two days after the events and told me daily that they were not afraid. My travelers were scheduled to take off from Belgium five hours later.. They called me, we talked by phone and they arrived the next morning in Sri Lanka! Having no activities planned in Colombo, they continued their circuit as we had prepared together.
How is daily life in Sri Lanka two months after the attacks?
EMILIE : Life continues and it feels good. The faces of our colleagues and friends are slowly relaxing. We feel that the Sri Lankans are coming together, and the message I read most on social network from my friends or Sri Lankan influencers is ”stay united”. There is a desire for unity and the Sri Lankans cope with these attacks by continuing to live together and by supporting one another.
JULIETTE : Here in Colombo, life is returning to normal. We returned to the office on Monday, April 22, and although the streets were quiet for the first few days, they quickly returned to their usual Colombo-style hustle and bustle. So we started to go out and enjoy the city that we live in again.
JULIE : Life has resumed… There is no more curfew and social networks are working normally. The presence of the military and the police is still quite strong in the capital and this is rather reassuring.
Why do you like Sri Lanka so much?
EMILIE: What I love about Sri Lanka is the kindness of the Sri Lankans, their smiles and the time they take to interact with each other. Not to mention the culinary discoveries and the variety of landscapes that the island offers. I am always surprised by the stunning landscapes or a moment of connection with the locals, that I become a little more attached to this country every day.
JULIETTE : I already had the chance to come and discover Sri Lanka a few years ago during a trip that left me with wonderful memories. After spending a year in India, the idea of returning to Sri Lanka and learning more about Sri Lankan culture and way of life was an obvious choice for me.
JULIE : I was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in France. Having found my biological family here, I wanted to come more often. After two trips in 2018, Shanti Travel gave me the chance to settle down here. For me, it was the logical extension of my previous trips.
A number of embassies have eased their recommendations to travelers wishing to travel to Sri Lanka, while others have lifted their restrictions completely. What do you think about this?
EMILIE : I am happy that the situation is changing and that the embassies are easing their travel restrictions. Often my travelers ask me how they can help the Sri Lankans. The best way to help them is to come here (even if you reschedule your trip) to discover the wealth of this country and to meet the locals. They are generous people who like to let travelers know about their culture and their country. As Travel Experts, we take care of the safety of our travelers and by living on site, we feel “the heart of the country”.
JULIETTE : I think that the embassy only gives recommendations that it considers to be good for its citizens. To see that calm has returned to Colombo and that we live without fear or feeling unsafe drives me to be optimistic. We continue to receive travelers who fully enjoy their stay on the island. I myself went to the south last weekend to enjoy the beach. It is therefore definitely possible to travel serenely in Sri Lanka now.
JULIE : The situation is perfectly normal and we are strongly advised to follow the official indications. Now that the situation is back to normal, we can travel around Sri Lanka without any problems.
Today, what would be your message to the Sri Lankan people?
JULIETTE : First of all, I would like to tell them that I am wholeheartedly with them throughout this terrible ordeal, which unfortunately does not seem to spare any country these days. I would also tell them not to panic, and especially not to fall into fear or hatred of one other, but to remain united.
EMILIE : In order to stay united, I want to tell them #WeloveSriLanka.
JULIE : The Sri Lankan people are mentally strong, I saw this with my colleagues and my family. I would also tell them that I do not intend to leave the country anytime soon! It is a real pleasure and a wonderful opportunity for me to be here so I’m here I’m staying!
“Unity is strength: although this proverb is the national motto of many countries like Belgium, today it is in Sri Lanka that we must act. The voices of those who are currently on site and who appreciate the gentleness of daily life is the most promising message of hope for the entire country. We Love Sri Lanka, do you? Conclude Jeremy Grasset and Alex Le Beuan, both optimistic and eager to work towards restoring the destination.