Reopening Sri Lanka eyes 1.5 m tourists this year

Wednesday, 6 January 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga 


  • Airports to be formally opened for commercial flights and international tourists on 23 January, soft opening on 21 January
  • Incoming tourists will be subject to PCR tests, 14-day minimum stay, to live in predetermined travel bubble areas and in 131 certified hotels
  • Finalised new set of guidelines to be issued this week
  • Tourism Minister says top airlines keen to resume scheduled operations
  • Sri Lanka Tourism to hold special awareness meeting for all foreign missions, industry stakeholders on latest developments
  • Ranatunga defends pilot project stating it was a success, encouraged Govt. open country for other tourists
  • Says ‘Safe and Secure’ certification program not scrapped, but expanded to expedite process
  • Sri Lanka Tourism Chief says 131 hotels certified safe and secure, of that 47 have expressed interest to be Level-1 hotels
  • Govt. identifies 14 sites exclusive for visiting tourists to patronise under controlled arrangements

By Charumini de Silva

The Government yesterday expressed confidence in attracting 1.5 million tourists this year with the opening of the airports in two weeks’ time with due compliance with COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga yesterday formally announced that all airports will be opened for commercial flights and international tourists from 23 January, preceded by a soft opening on 21 January.

“We hope to attract 1.5 million tourists this year with implementation of proper COVID-19 health and safety guidelines,” the Minister told journalists yesterday.

Last year tourist arrivals were estimated at 508,000 with most of them coming prior to the closure of the airport in mid-March when the country’s borders were closed to contain the spread of COVId-19 pandemic. In 2019, Sri Lanka attracted 1.9 million tourists down from a record 2.3 million in 2018.

The Minister said all incoming tourists will be subject to PCR tests, 14-day minimum stay and live in predetermined travel bubble areas and in 131 certified hotels.

“Be it group tourists or the free independent travellers (FIT), all will be allowed only to move about within the travel corridors subject to negative PCR test results,” he said.

The final guidelines for the tourists and hotels will be issued this week.

To put the country back on the map of prospective holiday makers, Si Lanka Tourism will hold a special awareness meeting with all the foreign missions in Sri Lanka and industry stakeholders to update on the latest developments on reopening country’s borders.

The Minister also said that the circulars and regulations will be changed from time to time to suit the country›s requirements and conditions.

When asked how many commercial airlines have expressed interest to resume operations, Ranatunga said that several top airlines are keen. “Before COVID, around 28 airlines came to Sri Lanka and of those key airlines that helped us to repatriate Sri Lankans stranded overseas will soon resume operations. In fact, there are few new airlines wanting to fly to Sri Lanka,” Ranatunga added.

He believes the country will attract more airlines to resume operations to Sri Lanka gradually.

Ranatunga also clarified that the Government has not scrapped the ‘Safe and Secure’ compliance certification program initiated for hotels, but expanded it further to expedite the process with approval from the Health Ministry where Public Health Inspectors (PHIs) will inspect and offer the certification.

“The process was slow and to expedite the issuance of the certificate we have got the Health Ministry support to issue this essential certification,” he added.

The Government has also identified 14 tourist attraction sites exclusive for visiting tourists to patronise under controlled arrangements. These include; Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, Sinharaja Forest Reserve, Yala National Park, Udawalawe National Park Safari, Eth Athuru Sewana, Kaudulla National Park, Mirissa Whale Watching, Pinnawala Open Zoo, Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, Sigiriya Fortress, Dambulla Royal Cave Temple and Golden Temple, Royal Botanic Garden in Peradeniya, Laksala Kandy and Pinnawala branches.

When asked who will bear the cost of the personal protective equipment (PPE) kits provided for service providers, Ranatunga said it will be borne by the travel agents or the hotels organising such tours within the country as the revenue goes to them.

Tourism Minister also defended the pilot project of allowing 2,000 Ukrainians stating it was a success and that encouraged the Government to open the country for other tourists. 

While the industry stakeholders estimate over Rs.800 million revenue from the visiting Ukrainian tourists, the Minister said there was no official confirmation on the value.

He said the Government has taken many initiatives to safeguard the livelihood of three million people dependent on the tourism industry, which is 99% private sector driven.

Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando said of the total 131 hotels certified safe and secure around 47 of them have expressed interest to be Level-1 hotels, where no locals will be allowed within their premises.

She categorically said that these 131 hotels are from across the country which comprises; one to five star hotels, tourist hotels, home stay units, guest houses, boutique hotels, boutique villas, bungalows and camping sites. This ensures the visiting tourist has a wider option. 

Fernando expects Lankan diaspora to be the first to seize the opportunity to visit Sri Lanka following the opening of the airports followed by Europeans and others as restrictions are eased in their home countries in tandem with the severity of the COVID spread. 

State Aviation Minister D.V. Chanaka, Tourism Ministry Secretary S. Hettiarachchi and Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Director General Dhammika Wijayasinghe also attended the media briefing.


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