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Increase in Chinese, Indian tourists to help strengthen Sri Lanka's economy, says official

COLOMBO, July 1 (Xinhua) -- An increase in tourists mainly from China and India will help strengthen Sri Lanka's frail economy as tourism is poised to become the largest foreign exchange earner, an official said on Friday.

Tourist arrivals from China and India had increased in the recent years and due to the prevailing crisis in Europe, Asia had become an ideal destination, Felix Rodrigo, Advisor to Sri Lanka's Tourism Minister, told Xinhua.

He said that tourists mainly from China had also spent large funds due to their spending power which had benefitted several sectors in the island nation including the gem industry and small time businesses.

"India and China are one of our main markets and we will conduct more promotional programs to attract tourists from these two countries in the future. Currently the average money spent by a tourist per day is valued at 165 U.S. dollars which is good," Rodrigo said.

He added that while tourism was currently the No. 3 foreign exchange earner, it would soon lead as a higher number of tourists were selecting Sri Lanka as an ideal tourism destination.

China, which has become the second largest source of tourists to Sri Lanka, has helped improve the island nation's tourism industry once heavily scarred by a 30-year civil war between the government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels which ended in May 2009.

Latest statistics from the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau showed that tourist arrivals from China to Sri Lanka increased 31.5 percent in May. Last year, Sri Lanka was able to attract 200,000 Chinese tourists.

An estimated 1.8 million tourists arrived in Sri Lanka last year, contributing to 2.98 billion U.S. dollars of earnings to government revenues. The government said it hoped to attract at least 3 million tourists by the end of this year, and it has set a target of 4 million by 2020.