India-SL air travel bubble in final stages

Friday, 26 February 2021 00:41 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • SL requests Indian authorities to allow SriLankan Airlines to fly to 11 domestic destinations
  • Instructions given to expedite development work at Jaffna International Airport

By Charumini de Silva

 An air travel bubble between Sri Lanka and India aimed at boosting tourism is in its final stage, Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said yesterday. 

He told the Daily FT another round of discussion to resume flights and to launch a travel bubble between SL and India was discussed with Indian High Commissioner Dr. Gopal Bagle, Aviation State Minister D.V.Chanaka, Tourism Ministry Secretary S.Hettiarachchi, Aviation State Ministry Secretary Madhava Devasurendra and Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando on Wednesday.

“The arrangement for an air travel bubble between the two countries has now reached the final stages. Once completed and in force, we are confident tourist arrivals from India will pick up,” Ranatunga added.

India is the largest source for tourists for Sri Lanka, with 355,002 arrivals in 2019. 

The Indian Government proposed to launch a tourist air bubble between the two neighbouring countries in early February. Thereafter, authorities of both countries commenced exploring possibilities of initiating an air travel bubble, adhering to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines to support revive and resume tourism and aviation industries that were severely hit by the pandemic. 

At present, no travellers are allowed from India and only two SriLankan Airlines cargo flights are operating to India.

Sri Lanka is a favourite destination for India’s leisure travel market, with its value for money hotel rates, bargain shopping and wide variety of climates and environments, ranging from mist-swathed mountains to lush jungles teeming with wildlife.

Sri Lanka has submitted 11 travel destinations that the national carrier — SriLankan Airlines would like to operate in India under this program to the Civil Aviation Authority of India and Embassy of India. These destinations include; Chennai, Madurai, Coimbatore, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Trivandrum, Kochi, Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Tiruchirappalli.

“We are hopeful that the necessary approval will be considered soon by the Indian authorities to commence the project,” Chanaka told the Daily FT.

SriLankan Airlines is one of the largest overseas operators into India, which also enjoys access to fly to large number of destination within India.

In addition, the development of Jaffna International Airport was also discussed.

“The development work of the Jaffna International Airport was temporarily halted due to the pandemic. Instructions have been given to expedite the work,” the State Minister said.

According to Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) data, the country received 1,682 tourists in January, following the reopening of borders, just two weeks before closure of the month. Of the total, there were 17 Indians as well. 

Extending special appreciation to the Indian High Commissioner, Ranatunga said that the program would enhance bilateral relations between the two countries in the areas of tourism and aviation.