Weighing in on the tourism trade which has been struggling to recover since the re-opening of borders, the Central Bank last week said that it is crucial to employ innovative strategies to keep the industry going under the new normal designed by the pandemic.
Sri Lanka re-opened its borders in January third week after a 10-month closure due to the pandemic, but the arrivals have been lacklustre as tougher health guidelines dissuaded travellers from taking visits to the country, while the neighbouring Maldives is attracting visitors in droves.
As industry stakeholders were talking with the health authorities to relax certain stricter guidelines for the visiting of tourists to aid faster revival in the trade, the country was met with the virus spread again, ruining the chances for the industry to come back anytime soon.
Tourism is a US$ 4.5 billion plus industry, but even the US$ 1.5 billion estimated for 2021 now appears elusive as several countries have imposed travel advisories against Sri Lanka as it is identifying increasingly more virus positive cases after they ramped up testing.
“Innovative strategies to entice both international and domestic tourists are necessary to keep the tourism sector functioning in the new normal that has been created by the pandemic”, the Central Bank said.
Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga maintains that they wouldn’t close the borders and would continue to facilitate visitors under health guidelines.
Since the re-opening of borders for the tourists, the country has adopted what is known as ‘bio-bubbles’ for the tourists where the health and safety of the tourists and the locals are ensured through social distancing while also avoiding quarantine requirements for tourists.
“While the pandemic persists, bio-bubbles can be expanded to include more authorised accommodation providers and tourist sites, while inviting tourists of many different countries to visit Sri Lanka”, the Central Bank said.
“Further, regional bio-bubbles can be negotiated with countries like the Maldives, which has opened up for tourism, while creating travel corridors with other countries. At the same time, increasing opportunities for those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel without testing and quarantining can also be explored”, the Central Bank suggested.
People who are fully vaccinated in the United States are all waiting to resume their offshore travel as they feel they lost a significant part of their lives due to yearlong restrictions on air travel.
“I’m willing to splurge a little bit more to may be visit more places or upgrade my accommodations so I enjoy it more,” said one 76 years old US septuagenarian after completing one offshore trip since getting his jab.
“I feel like I lost a significant percentage of my remaining lifespan, and I want to make it up,” he added.
Meanwhile the Central Bank emphasised the need to promote domestic tourism further by way of scheduled tour packages for weekends, customised tours for different age groups, educational tours, and retreats and tours for different income groups.
With the rising middle income class the local tourist with deep pockets have shown that they have the potential to support the industry to remain alive until the foreigners return.
However, the hundreds of thousands of local people who went on trips on the New Year’s eve after more than a year of staying at home, have been made the worst culprits and some healthcare experts and the talking heads in television went to the extent of suggesting that these people have to be penalised in some form.
One talking head on a prominent TV station in the country asked the COVID task force why they didn’t impose travel restrictions on people well in advance of the New Year to prevent them from going to places to enjoy their lives.
These TV doctors with media IDs are free to travel anywhere they want and they think that is a privilege only unto them and not for the rest.