I would still travel there in a heartbeat,” one agent told me confidently. We were speaking two days after the Easter Sunday terror atrocities in Sri Lanka, and this agent’s message was clear: “we need to support them and ensure the terrorists don’t win”.
Sadly, the UK Foreign Office (FCO) was less comfortable about Brits travelling to Sri Lanka – on Thursday (25 April), it issued a warning advising against “all but essential travel” to the south-Asian country.
As always, the victims of such violence are far-ranging – not least the locals in resorts that rely on tourism, who will now be wondering what the long-term repercussions of the devastating attacks will be.
And as with other destinations that have also suffered at the hands of terrorism, all eyes now will be on how Sri Lanka responds. Tunisia for instance, which was targeted by Islamic extremists in June 2015 who killed 38 people including 30 Britons, was quick to acknowledge its failures and ultimately overhauled its security procedures – not just at airports, but also within its hotels.
Hearteningly, Sri Lanka has also responded quickly, with “security briefings” conducted with hotel operators on new safety measures the day after the attacks. It will take more than this, though, to convince the FCO of the country’s safety.
The horrific attacks were a timely reminder that all destinations are vulnerable to terrorism, but the speed with which agents and operators reacted was an equal reminder of the incredible support offered by the UK travel industry when such brutalities occur.
The FCO insists its decision will be kept under “close and constant review”. And when it does change its advice, the UK travel trade will be ready.
Like many in the sector, I am lucky to have had the chance to visit this remarkable country. We should all work together to ensure others have that chance too.