By Charumini de Silva
The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) yesterday expressed mixed sentiments over the new conditions outlined by the Government to re-open Sri Lanka for global tourists post-COVID-19.
THASL President Sanath Ukwatte
“Ideally, at a time when Sri Lanka is about to restart tourism industry, it would have been a great gesture if we could offer fee-free visa at least for the first six months. However, with new health protocols in operation, particularly a series of PCR testing where the Government has to incur additional costs, it may not be practical to grant such incentives,” THASL President Sanath Ukwatte told the Daily FT.
Sri Lanka Tourism this week said it was readying to welcome travellers from 1 August subject to new conditions to ensure health safety measures. According to the new protocol, apart from multiple PCR tests, all future tourists will be required to apply for visas online, pay a flat fee of $ 100 each (except nationals from countries where there is reciprocal fee-free-visa), and book a minimum stay of five nights at COVID-19 health safety guidelines compliant certified hotels and resorts.
Ukwatte said international studies have shown that waiving of visas or attractive visa fees can boost visitors to a destination. “For example, visa waivers have resulted in 10% increase of visitors to a destination and hassle-free granting of visas for tour groups have also encouraged more visitors to a destination. In our case, it could be used to attract large groups of travellers especially MICE travellers from close regional countries,” he said.
“We could also consider issuing visas free-of-charge for a minimum of five-day bookings to places like the East Coast where we need to encourage more visitors. Nevertheless, I understand the Government does not wish to encourage high tourism numbers initially and they will ease all restrictions as and when things improve,” THASL Chief stressed.
With regards to the condition of minimum stay of five nights at COVID-19 health safety guidelines compliant certified hotels and resorts, Ukwatte said that the industry needs more clarity. “If you take a business traveller for example, if he wishes to leave after two days, he should have the freedom to do so, provided he adheres to all the health protocols,” THASL Chief pointed out.
He also noted that based on their past data, an average leisure traveller from Europe stays for a minimum period of 10 days in the country, unless it is a business traveller as mentioned before or from close regional countries.