The Government plans to formally reopen Sri Lanka’s borders and welcome international travellers once again in January 2021
- December opening only pilot project to assess protocols, capacity handling
- AASL says negotiations still on, no final decision taken yet
- Industry asserts pilot project granted Cabinet approval so 44,000 Russian travellers can come to SL
- Reopening for tourists likely from mid-Jan
- Final call from health authorities pending
- Arrivals drop 66.1% in first 10 months of the year CB
By Charumini de Silva
The Government yesterday confirmed that the reopening of Sri Lanka’s borders on 26 December is a pilot project and not a formal opening to welcome international travellers post-COVID, with the official lifting of restrictions slated for January.
This particular pilot project aims to assess the protocols that have been put in place to handle the influx of tourists once the country’s borders are formally opened for international tourism by mid-January, officials said.
The initiative is a follow-up to a meeting Presidential Task Force on Economic Revival and Poverty Eradication Chairman Basil Rajapaksa chaired mid last week followed by a flurry of discussions between health authorities and tourism authorities to resume tourism with strict safety guidelines.
This pilot project will continue for about a month’s period, until the Government formally announces the resumption of international tourism in mid-January.
Upon inquiry, Airport and Aviation Services (Lanka) Ltd. said that no final decision had been taken as yet regarding the speculated Russian flight.
“The negotiations are still ongoing, particularly with regard to the landing airport. No decision has been made on whether it will land at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) or Mattala International Airport (MIA),” a top official told the Daily FT.
He also said that a decision on flights for the pilot project would be taken towards the latter part of this week, as final recommendations from health authorities were still expected.
Industry sources told the Daily FT that the pilot project was the same initiative which was approved by the Cabinet to bring 44,000 tourists from the Russian Federation. This Cabinet paper was tabled as a joint Cabinet paper by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga.
Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando told the Daily FT that they were awaiting the final protocols from the health authorities yesterday and assured that they were keen to implement them in the immediate future.
“The reopening of borders will be announced formally by the Tourism Minister and Sri Lanka Tourism will abide by the protocols and implement them,” she added.
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officials were unable for a comment despite repeated attempts.
Upon Joint Committee recommendations last week, the Tourism Minister had requested two separate meetings with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and COVID-19 Task Force this week.
Following President Gotabaya Rajapaksa going public earlier this month at the Sri Lanka Economic Summit that he was keen to resume international tourist arrivals with adequate safety guidelines and with Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga advocating the same, the work process was fast-tracked among all stakeholders.
The hotels clustertravel bubble approach was first mooted by the Tourism Minister-appointed 11-member Advisory Committee led by Hiran Cooray.
When the 2021 Budget votes for Tourism and Aviation Ministries came up in Parliament early this month, most of the MPs recommended the re-opening of the airport. The industry is keen to follow the advice of health authorities whilst extending its fullest support to contain the spread of COVID-19.
The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) said nearly 70 hotels accounting for around 6,500 rooms had received ‘Safe and Secure’ compliance certification to resume operations post-COVID.
According to the Health Ministry’s COVID-19 Clinical Management Expert Committee in collaboration with Sri Lanka Tourism’s all-inclusive guidelines to resume tourism gradually it said no more than 300 tourists per day in total would be allowed at both airports – Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and Mattala International Airport (MIA) – and that they would be reopened for tourists in a phased-out manner, with first preference being given to the repatriation of citizens to Sri Lanka.
No tourist arrivals were recorded for the seventh consecutive month in October 2020. Total tourist arrivals remained at 507,311 during the 10 months ending October 2020, compared to 1,495,055 arrivals recorded during the corresponding period in 2019, latest data from the Central Bank showed this week.
Accordingly, cumulative earnings from tourism, which are estimated based on tourist arrivals, remained at $ 956 million during the year up to October 2020, thus recording a drop of 66.1% from the corresponding period of 2019.