Is it safe to visit Sri Lanka and can I cancel my holiday?

Hugh Morris
Bogambara Lake, Kandy, in central Sri Lanka - Elena Eliachevitch©2017

Travellers with holidays booked to Sri Lanka have been told to follow the advice of the Foreign Office (FCO) in the wake of the Easter Sunday bombings that killed 310 people, including eight Britons.

But those who do not wish to travel in the coming days and weeks have been warned they might not be able to cancel their trip free of charge, as the FCO has not changed its stance on travel to the South Asian island.

Can I cancel my holiday?

Abta, the travel association that represents British tour operators, said “normal booking conditions would apply if customers no longer wish to travel”, but added that the policies of different travel companies will vary depending on specific circumstances.

“Some Abta members are offering customers who are due to travel imminently the opportunity to change their booking, should they wish to do so,” Abta said in a statement. “Travellers should contact their travel company to discuss their cancellation policies, and the options available.”

After the bombings, the Sri Lankan government announced a state of emergency and imposed a curfew on the island. Luxury company Kuoni said it was monitoring the situation closely and that anyone due to travel should contact the operator.

“For those due to travel imminently we are contacting them regarding the situation and from the conversations we’ve had, everyone is continuing with their holiday plans,” a spokesperson said, adding that customers due to be in Colombo over the next seven days have been moved, as have those in affected hotels.

Lloyd Kane, managing partner at Rickshaw Travel, said it was contacting customers with a trip "planned or pending to advise and support them". 

Those who have not booked with a tour operator should contact their airline and accommodation separately for their cancellation policies, Abta said. Emirates, for example, offered anyone due to travel before Sunday (April 21) the opportunity to amend their booking, but that window has now closed.

Have flights been affected?

No, flights are still operating in and out of Bandaranaike International, however, security has been stepped up at the airport. A statement from the airport near the capital, Colombo, advised passengers to arrive at least four hours before departure to allow for the additional security measures.

Sri Lankan Airlines, the country’s flag carrier, said passengers should be able to reach the airport during the government-imposed curfew by producing their tickets and passports to security forces at checkpoints.

The airline said it wanted to thank its “friends and supporters across the world, who expressed solidarity, sympathy and words of courage in this hour of grief and despair”.

What is the Foreign Office advice?

The Foreign Office has updated its advice to reflect an increased terror threat, as well as details from the weekend’s attacks, but has not imposed a blanket restriction. It urged visitors to follow the advice of local security authorities, hotel security staff and their tour operators.

“Security has been stepped up across the island and there are ongoing security operations,” the FCO said.

“These may continue for a number of days and the situation remains dynamic. Please follow the advice of local security authorities, hotel security staff and your tour company.

“The Sri Lankan authorities have declared a nationwide curfew. You should limit movements until this has been lifted, following the instructions of the local authorities and your hotel/tour operator.”

On the curfew, the FCO said travellers should plan movements carefully and avoid travelling during periods of curfew.

“Avoid crowded public areas and gatherings/demonstrations and monitor local media for developments,” it said.

Golden beaches is one of the country's draws Credit: getty

Is Sri Lanka a popular holiday destination?

Absolutely. Since 2009, the year the country’s civil war ended after 26 years of conflict, international arrivals have soared, from 439,475 in 2008 to 2.3million last year. Much of the north of Sri Lanka has only recently been opened up to tourism.

From next week the country was to offer visa-free travel to British passport holders as part of a drive to bolster further its tourism industry, between May and October.

Telegraph Travel’s Sri Lanka expert Emma Boyle said the mood in the country over the last 10 years has been incredibly positive.

“Over the last decade, Sri Lanka has worked hard to entice tourists back and ensure them that this is a safe, welcoming and peaceful country to visit. And it has been successful,” she said in the wake of the attacks.

“Business is determined to continue as usual and the hope is that visitors will not cancel their existing plans, and continue to explore and enjoy the island’s unaffected regions.”

“Ordinary Sri Lankans do not wish to see senseless violence return to their island, and are showing solidarity in the face of [the weekend’s] events.”