- Assures pilot project aimed at resuming tourism going ahead as planned
- Says plans well in place for contingencies with the support of all stakeholders
- Three Ukrainians tourists of pilot project test positive for COVID-19
- SLTDA distances itself from the project; says it is handled by Tourism Ministry
By Shabiya Ali Ahlam
Stakeholders of Sri Lanka’s tourism industry yesterday assured that the ongoing pilot project carried out as a first step towards re-opening the country for tourists, is going ahead as planned despite some expected hiccups, for which appropriate courses of action has been planned out.
With the arrival of a charter flight from Ukraine on Monday (28), Sri Lanka re-opened its doors to tourists after nine months.
From the December 28, 2020 to January 19, 2021, Sri Lanka will receive over 3, 000 tourists from Ukraine, who will arrive in 12 charter flights.
The first round of PCR tests of the group that arrived on Monday was taken at the hotel designated for them, and three of the 185 arrivals tested positive for COVID-19.
The results of the second batch of tourists who arrived on Tuesday are still pending.
In a bid to accommodate the revival project, the Ministry of Tourism has put forward a revised set of guidelines, where some protocols were observed to be relaxed.
However, industry representatives stressed that all players have taken the necessary precautions to ensure that any transmission is contained within the bubble.
“When opening for tourism we have to be prepared to handle such situations. So, as long as the necessary guidelines are in place and followed, its unlikely this (virus) can reach out to the society,” Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) immediate Past President Mahen Kariyawasan told Mirror Business.
He pointed out that the island nation is not the only country facing such issues and the countries that have opened thus far for tourism, are managing accordingly.
“It’s a situation where we have to strike a balance between managing the economy whilst controlling the COVID-19 situation. So this is the story about moving into the new normal,” stressed Kariyawasan.
Colombo City Hotels Association President M. Shanthikumar shared similar views but stressed that caution must be exercised as to who is coming into the country.
“We have to open the country otherwise the industry can’t survive. The economy too needs this badly. However, we have to be very careful in
who we are bringing in. We need to be prepared to handle situations where we have tourists testing positive,” expressed the veteran hotelier.
When questioned as to how the procedures laid out can be made better, Shanthikumar said there is definitely room for learning and as of now the industry has to wait and see the outcome of the efforts taken and tweak them accordingly if necessary.
Meanwhile, when Mirror Business reached out to Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) to gain insights on how the positive cases will be handled, given that Sri Lanka itself is grappling with a spike in COVID-19 transmission since October, the agency stated that the project is being handled by the Ministry of Tourism and thus it is not in a position to comment.
SLTDA kicked off the drafting of guidelines together with the Ministry of Health (MoH) earlier this year, and facilitated the COVID-19 audit for over 100 accommodation and tourist service providers across the country.
However, industry sources shared with Mirror Business that the health guideline circulated by the Ministry of Tourism among sector players had protocols amended.