Each year, more than 5.5 million Germans travel to countries outside Europe and the Mediterranean. Until recently, Sri Lanka scarcely appeared on the tourist map. Now, it's one of the destinations reaping the benefits.
The immigration officer declines the proffered print-out of an electronic visa and pastes a small sticker into the passport. All the data from the visa, which was applied for in advance online and granted within minutes, are stored in a computer. In the entrance hall behind the baggage claim area, several providers offer SIM cards for mobile telephones. They cost a few euros and are activated within minutes.
Entering Sri Lanka is relatively trouble-free by South Asian standards, as more and more Germans are discovering. In scarcely any other country in the world has the number of German tourists risen so steeply in the past five years as in this island nation off southeastern India.
German arrivals in Sri Lanka has risen
Torsten Schäfer, spokesman for the German Travel Association (DRV), says that Germans are very experienced travelers and like to seek out destinations they haven't been to before. "For a while, Sri Lanka wasn't very popular on the tourist map. That has changed considerably in the past five years," he says.
The statistics speak for themselves: Since 2010, the number of German arrivals in Sri Lanka has risen by about 20 percent or more nearly every year - from 46,000 to more than 125,000. Schäfer says the long-distance travel trend among Germans is continuing. "Destinations that can be easily combined are especially popular: For instance, first a stop in Dubai, then on to the Maldives or Sri Lanka."
That tendency to combine destinations is confirmed by Majintha Perera, who runs a travel agency in Sri Lanka. He adds that, in the past, many German tourists who arrived in Sri Lanka moved on to the Maldives relatively soon, but that in recent years, it seems more and more have been deciding to stay longer in Sri Lanka.
Tourism was hit by the civil war
One reason Sri Lanka was long avoided by many tourists was a civil war that lasted 26 years, ending only in 2009. About three quarters of the island's residents are Buddhist Sinhalese; about 18 percent are Tamils, most of them Hindus. That minority, some of whom had been resettled from India under British colonial rule, felt oppressed and excluded by the government, police and military. An ethnic conflict arose. The north and north-east of Sri Lanka were particularly hard-hit by the war.
To this day, there are still military camps there, and the concentration of hotels is significantly lower than in the south-west and around the capital Colombo. But their numbers are growing: There are now about 30,000 rooms in hotels and other tourist accommodations in the entire country.
According to the tourism ministry, Germans are among their best customers. It says that, in 2015, tourists with German passports accounted for a total of about 1.8 million overnight stays. Only Britain sent more tourists to Sri Lanka.
Congestion at airports
Sri Lanka's principal international airport is called Bandaranaike and lies north of Colombo. In the peak season, up to 200 planes land there daily. Next year, things could get tight, however. For three months starting in January, 2017, Bandaranaike International Airport is to remain closed for eight hours a day. Until early April, no aircraft will be allowed to land there between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. The 58-year-old airport will be undergoing maintenance and repair work. Among other things, its only runway for take-offs and landings is to be resurfaced.
Sri Lanka does have a second international airport in Mattala, some 250 kilometers southeast of the capital, but it lies so far from the tourist hotspots that only two planes a day land there. So Bandaranaike will be operating with a revised flight schedule, and the immigration officers will probably have to work a few night shifts.
Stefan Bauer/sc (dpa)