Islamic pilgrims boost war-hit Sri Lanka’s tourism sector

COLOMBO, Jan 24, 2007 (AFP) – A mass gathering of Islamic pilgrims, who are jamming Sri Lanka’s hotels and shopping malls, has unexpectedly boosted the island’s war-hit tourism sector, officials said Wednesday. Sri Lanka’s 24-billion dollar economy earned 380.3 million dollars from tourism between January and October last year, retaining its place as one of the main foreign currency earners behind tea and clothing.

The spiritual leader of the Bohra community, Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin, is visiting Colombo for a 10-day prayer session to mark the Islamic new year and around 12,000 faithful are following him, officials said.

They have snapped up hotel rooms in the capital, while some are being put up by families taking part in the religious rituals.

“The religious gathering has brought good news for the tourism industry with city and resort hotels reporting full occupancy,” tourism secretary Prathap Ramanujam told AFP.

He said Colombo did not have enough rooms to accommodate all of the pilgrims and that flights to Sri Lanka were full because of the visit.

Sri Lanka has lowered its forecast for tourism arrivals by 20 percent to 543,877 this year.

War fears have prompted foreign go