Sunday, February 19, 2012

Update/Sri Lanka: Murder of British Tourist Impacts on UK Visitors

Logic would suggest that a media-catching, anecdotal murder of a tourist in a foreign country and the serious injury to another, should not normally have an impact on the number of tourists visiting a country from a particular nation, but clearly it does.

Nevertheless, the murder of British citizen Khuram Shaikh Zaman, 32, of Manchester, who died on Christmas Eve [2011], after he and his friend, Victoria Alexandrovna, 23, a Russian national, were physically attacked by a local gang.

The incident occurred in Tangalle, a popular tourist destination about 100 miles south of the capital of Colombo.

For reasons not fully understood, the two tourists apparently got into an argument with four local men at their hotel. Later, the couple was approached by the same individuals, who were by now heavily intoxicated.

Subsequently, Zaman was beaten to death and Alexandrovna, who came to his aid, was severely injured, so much so, that six weeks later, she remains in the ICU at a Sri Lankan hospital recovering from the beating she sustained.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa promptly ordered an investigation into the attack by a larger group of locals led by the chairman of the local government. Since then, seven more arrests have been made in addition to Sampath Chandra Pushpa Vidanapathirana, 24, the chairman of Tangalle village council, along with three others.

COMMENT: According to Tourist Board data, tourist arrivals from the UK declined by 14.2% in January 2012, compared to the same period in 2011, while arrivals from Western Europe increased by 11.9%. Yet, the overall tourist arrivals in January was 15.7% higher compared to the same month last year.

In analyzing this data, the only real useful "take-away" is that one highly publicized incident can have a detrimental effect on tourists from a particularly country, particularly when the event is highly-publicized and particularly violent.

Indeed, examining the large number of assaults and fatalities on US citizens and Canadians in Mexico (although demographically the two countries are significantly different) is much different because of the sheer disparity of numbers. Also, the fact that nearly 50,000 Mexicans have been killed by violent means in recent years in Mexico is much more than anecdotal.

In fairness to the Sri Lankan government, the President himself got personally engaged in the attacks on Zaman and Alexandrovna, ensured that the assailants promptly arrested and that Alexandrovna was well-cared for. We can only hope that Ms. Alexandrovna will pay nothing when she is ultimately discharged from the hospital.

Foreign governments where incidents occur naturally get defensive when the US Department of State and foreign ministries and offices disseminate "travel warnings," yet from the standpoint of media relations and liability implications, such entities have an obligation to caution and warn their citizens of prevailing risks in a given country.

Nevertheless, and unfortunately, many foreign tourists are either ignorant of such warnings and don't adhere to them because "they know better," or because they simply make bad choices which puts them into Harm's Way, as in the case of the Australian kidnapped in the southern Philippines and the Americans jailed in Iran while strangely backpacking in Iraq.

Unlike Sri Lanka, many developing countries that attract tourists do very little to reduce security risks in their own countries, as in the case of Thailand and Morocco of late, when a Swedish tourist was found dead, having been relieved of his valuables, although the host government referred to it as an "accidental death."

It is one thing if there have been a multitude of attacks on tourists from a specific country, but in the case of Sri Lanka, it is just not known as a highly dangerous destination, nor should Brits avoid because of one sensationalized incident.

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