COLOMBO, Jan. 22 (Xinhua) -- Chinese tourists to sun dappled Sri Lanka has increased by 58 percent in 2012, official data released here showed on Tuesday, sparking fresh promotions aimed at increasing arrivals from the world's fastest growing economy.
Chinese arrivals ended the year up by 58.1 percent at 25,781 with December alone seeing 3,605 arrivals, which is an impressive 213.8 percent rise from December 2011. The data was released by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA).
In 2011 the total number was 16,308.
Overall East Asia provided the third largest cache of tourists with 132,730 people. Despite the comparatively smaller number the region still had one of the best performance rates increasing by 38 percent from last year.
Buoyed by the increase in numbers, the Economic Development Ministry headed by the President's brother Basil Rajapaksa has focused on promoting Sri Lanka in China.
During December SLTDA sponsored a dozen journalists and TV crews from China to visit the scenic island and increase its exposure to Chinese audiences.
Despite its high value, Sri Lanka is consistently overshadowed by neighbor Maldives that gets almost a quarter of its tourists from China. In 2012 Maldives received 229,551 Chinese tourists, which was a 15.6 percent increase from 2011.
Sri Lanka's national carrier, SriLankan Airlines has also increased flights to key Chinese cities and opened up services in Chinese as well as launched tourism pages on social media in an attempt to bump up arrivals.
In total Sri Lanka attracted 1,005,605 arrivals in 2012, which is a 17.5 percent increase.
Despite the economic downturn Western Europe still provided the highest number of tourists with U.K (114,218), Germany (71,642) and France (56,863) pulling in large crowds of tourists. In total the region was responsible for 373,063 travelers, which is a 18.4 percent increase from 2011.
Since the end of a three decade war in 2009, Sri Lanka's tourism industry has become a top foreign exchange earner with top hotel chains including Shangri-la, Sheraton and Hyatt being among resorts signing contracts to operate on the island.
According to the Central Bank earnings from tourism are expected to have increased to 1 billion U.S. dollars, which is a 24 percent increase in 2012.
The government has set a target of 2.5 million tourists by 2016 that will almost triple earnings and employ half 1 million locals in another three years.