COLOMBO, March 12 (Reuters) - Escalating violence in Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil war hit tourism in February, largely because Europeans stayed away, officials said on Wednesday.
Figures from the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority showed that the number of tourists visiting the Indian Ocean island fell in February by 5.8 percent from a year earlier.
Arrivals dropped to 40,551 from 43,551 in the same month of 2007, the authority said.
"The fall was mainly from countries like Belgium, Netherlands, and Norway after they issued adverse travel advisories," said Renton de Alwis, chairman of the state-run authority.
Industry officials said the fall was mainly the result of increased violence between the military and Tamil Tiger rebels after the government formally scrapped a six-year truce with the guerrillas in January.
The country’s popular tourist areas are not in the conflict zone, but sporadic bomb blasts in and around the capital Colombo pose a major threat to tourism, officials say.
The data showed arrivals from the Netherlands and Belgium dropped 26.7 percent and 26.3 percent respectively compared with year-earlier levels. Arrivals from Norway fell 45.1 percent.
That means arrivals in the first two months of the year were 2.1 percent lower at 97,467 than a year earlier.
The tourism authority wants to attract 600,000 foreign visitors in 2008, and hopes to boost tourism receipts by 43 percent to $550 million.
Sri Lanka also aimed to attract 600,000 tourists last year, but fighting between the government and Tamil Tigers meant arrivals actually fell 11.7 percent from 2006 levels to 494,008. Tourism earnings fell 6.1 percent to $385 million.
Nearly 70,000 people have died since 1983 and around 6,000 people since late 2006 in the country’s civil war. The Tamil Tigers are fighting for an independent Tamil state.
Tourism is one of the key sources of foreign exchange in the $27 billion economy. Others are garment sales, foreign remittances and tea exports. (Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Neil Fullick)