Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando hands over SriLanka Tourism Safety Protocol booklet to Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga at the ceremonial event held in Colombo yesterday to officially announce Sri Lanka opening borders to international travellers
- Looking to contribute 10% of GDP in near future
- Calls stakeholders to build confidence in SL being safe and secure
- Points out need to further easing of protocols by 2Q to secure bookings from key markets
- UL to add Moscow as new route to up incoming tourist numbers
- Five new airlines have requested CAA for clearance, two already approved
By Shabiya Ali Ahlam
Sri Lanka yesterday reopened its doors to international travellers for the first time since the pandemic struck, and the tourism sector is hopeful that with the kick start, it will be able to make a double-digit percentage contribution to the national gross domestic product (GDP) in the near future.
While the local tourism sector, which was well on its way to becoming one of the top revenue generators for the national economy, came to standstill following the 2019 Easter Sunday attack and then COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, industry stakeholders are positive about their capabilities in capitalising on the new normal and getting back on track.
“If we can contribute in the near future for about US$ 10 billion return to the economy where we will contribute at least 10 percent of our GDP, then we have achieved together something substantial. It is not going to be an easy task at the beginning because it is going to require a lot of discipline from all of us in the industry,” said Sri Lanka Tourism Development Advisory Council Chairman Hiran Cooray.
Addressing a press conference in Colombo yesterday, held to announce the official re-opening of Sri Lanka as a tourism destination, Cooray stressed the industry must work towards building confidence in the island nation being safe and secure so that bookings can be secured from key markets.
For that, he said it would be necessary to relax the current health protocols for tourists, although not in the immediate future, but at least towards the second quarter.
“One of our main markets, the United Kingdom, for them Maldives, Japan, Greece, and Turkey are the most often sought-after destinations in the summer months. We should be in that list. It will happen when we relax some of the restrictions,” expressed Cooray.
In Sri Lanka’s efforts towards reviving the tourism industry and the three million people it supports through direct and indirect employment, Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Chairperson Kimarli Fernando affirmed that the industry stakeholders are now on the same page and all efforts are taken by the authority to facilitate an enabling environment.
“We are united. The borders are opened, the protocols are set, and we have done what it takes to ensure Sri Lanka is open and open the right way,” she said.
Fernando acknowledged there have been communication gaps in the past, as witnessed during the Ukrainian pilot project, however she stressed that all issues have been ironed out to ensure the industry progresses.
Meanwhile, national carrier SriLankan Airlines shared that it too has been exploring avenues to increase the number of incoming travellers by looking at new routes.
Its Chairman Ashok Pathirage shared that Moscow will be a new addition which will kick off by February.
“SriLankan Airlines is ready to assist. Moscow can be a good opportunity for us to explore before the season ends. If everything goes well we will have this route by 15 February,” shared Pathirage.
Furthermore, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced that five new international airlines have requested for clearance in landing in Sri Lanka and two have already received approval.
Tourism Chamber hails govt. for reopening airports
The Chamber of Tourism and Industry yesterday welcomed the government’s move and the efforts of key agencies to reopen the country for tourists.
“The Chamber is optimistic that opening of airports under strict health guidelines will help the industry to come back to normalcy during the coming months,” said Chamber of Tourism and Industry President A. M. Jaufer in a statement to the media.
He added that with over three million individuals who are dependent on the sector and currently struggling, the reopening of airports for tourists would provide relief to the industry, bringing in the much-needed foreign exchange.
The Chamber highlighted that the local tourism industry has been subjected to severe hardship during the past years; the 30-year armed conflict, tsunami, Easter Sunday attacks and the COVID-19 pandemic, all which left a crippling effect on the industry.
Hotel sector targets 0.5 million visitors this year
The Hotel Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) yesterday announced that the industry is targeting to attract half a million visitors this year with the country having re-opened its borders for international travellers.
“Provided there is no major travel restriction, we are targeting 500,000 visitors for this year which includes Sri Lankan expatriates who generally visit their friends and family each year and stay in hotels
throughout the country with US$ 1 billion earnings this year,” THASL President Sanath Ukwatte said.
While sounding optimistic about the re-opening of borders for foreign visitors benefitting the hard-hit industry, THASL stressed the need to exercise caution in handling tourists so that any further health crisis can be avoided.
“We appeal to all stakeholders to maintain extreme caution and adherence to health and safety guidelines are paramount to resume a sustainable growth in the months ahead,” Ukwatte said.
He also called on the general public to cooperate and support the industry in its journey towards restarting the industry, which he stressed is the worst impacted by the pandemic.
Furthermore, Ukwatte expressed that the industry hopes the restrictions imposed will be eased in time to come (with increased vaccinations around the world), especially the no-entry policy for locals at Level 1 hotels where tourists will be residing in the initial two weeks of their stay.
He also shared that the industry is appreciative of the government’s efforts in vaccinating the local community in a systematic way commencing February and including tourism stakeholders on a priority basis.
“We are hoping that we will be able to attract visitors who will stay longer and who wish to avoid severe winter in Europe and also those who wish to take advantage of the extended 3-month visa scheme,” Ukwatte added.