By Charumini de Silva
Sri Lanka Tourism yesterday said the country has welcomed over 400 international tourists after reopening borders on 21 January, and expressed confidence that interest will build up gradually towards the first half of the year.
As of yesterday, a total of 407 international travellers have arrived, where 300 Ukrainians applied for visa online through the Immigration Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) after it was opened for the pilot project and the balance were from Germany, China and Netherlands.
“We are happy with the number of travellers that had arrived in the country within a week’s time despite the pandemic,” Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Director General Dhammika Wijayasinghe told the Daily FT.
She was optimistic that the numbers would gradually pick up towards the first half of the year.
Sri Lanka reopened the airports following the 10-month closure as part of mitigating the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
In the first six days since resumption of tourism, nearly 20 level-1 hotels that have taken bookings for the travellers that are in the country. The hotels are ME Colombo, Ayurveda Paragon, Cinnamon Bentota Beach, Insight Resort Ahangama, Taj Bentota Resort and Spa, Coral Sands Hotel, Kahanda Kanda, KK Beach, The Villa Blue Sky, Jetwing Lagoon, Cinnamon Bey, Turyaa Kalutara, Hibiscus Beach Hotel, Santani Wellness Resort and Spa, Weligama Escapes, Talalla Retreat Centre, Cape Weligama, Ayurvie Weligama and Ceylon Tea Trails Dunkeld Bungalow.
Airport Aviation Services (Lanka) Ltd. Vice Chairman Rajiv Sooriyaarachchi said around 15 airlines have scheduled regular flights to Sri Lanka at present
He also said the majority of the tourists were flown in by Emirates, Qatar Airways and SriLankan Airlines.
National carrier SriLankan Airlines resumed direct flights from Frankfurt, a popular air hub in Europe after a lapse of more than four years on 21 January flying in 11 Germans. The Frankfurt-Colombo route was resumed with the Sri Lankan Embassy in Germany, promoting the island nation as a safe and secure tourism destination. The airline is scheduled to operate two direct flights per week to increase tourist arrivals from Germany.
SriLankan Airlines will start twice weekly flights to Russian capital Moscow from mid-February to support the country’s fresh push to woo tourists.
“Since the opening around 10 to 15 tourists have arrived in the country,” Sooriyaarachchi added. Airlines are only allowed to bring 75 tourists per flight.
However, he said that there were no private jet movements so far.
Industry experts said the vaccine has also brought optimism to the tourism industry. “Among all the sectors there is one with the highest hopes that a global immunisation will bring back a normal life and that is the tourism industry,” they said.
They pointed out that enthusiasm of the international travellers has slowly risen in all top travel booking engines within the past couple of days. “In the short term, that extra confidence will increase online searches for trips, and later on, the searches will turn into actual bookings,” they said.