Opening Sri Lanka for Tourism: Tourism industry appreciates move
At a meeting convened by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, on 29 September 2020, together with senior Government officials and the private sector, the President requested them to explore the possibility of reviving Sri Lanka’s tourism industry whilst conforming to health and safety guidelines issued by the health authorities.
The tourism sector is the 3rd largest foreign exchange earner in Sri Lanka and has shown a significant growth in tourist arrivals over a decade up to 2018. It was well on its way to be the second highest foreign exchange earner, with a target revenue of US$ 10 billion.
Tourism with its huge multiplier effect is estimated to have contributed over 10% of the country’s GDP both from formal and the informal sectors. The direct and indirect employment in the sector is over 800,000 and more than two million people, or 10% of Sri Lanka’s population, is dependent on tourism.
The tourism industry took a massive hit after the Easter attacks in April 2019. The second blow was the Covid-19 which started to negatively impact the industry by the beginning of 2020. The industry which has shown great resilience over the years, is struggling for survival with stakeholders small, medium and large suffering with zero earnings.
As requested by Minister of Tourism Prasanna Ranatunga, a joint committee was formed by Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) and the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO). The main purpose of forming the committee was to work on a joint proposal to revive the tourism industry with the necessary health guidelines. The joint committee had several rounds of discussion and meetings to agree on a model that will ensure the safety of the citizens, guests and all service providers involved in the operation.
SLAITO also engaged the Association for Small & Medium Enterprises In Tourism (ASMET) & One Voice One industry members in the tourism process of formulating the proposal to open the country for tourism. Some of the key suggestions that have been included in the proposal are given below:
- Work on a concept of a ‘Travel Bubble’. This means to create a cluster of hotel rooms in identified locations with hotels being adjacent to each other. Some examples are Passikudah Bay area, Bentota tourism zone and Koggala.
- A tourist arriving in Sri Lanka should stay in a level one hotel for a minimum of 7 days. After 7 days a tourist can move to any other level one hotel if the 2nd PCR test taken in Sri Lanka is negative.
- Initially, to identify the countries and form travel corridors from where tourists should be permitted to arrive in Sri Lanka in order to have low risk travel corridors.
- Each hotel to be permitted to sell a limited number of rooms and to allocate a percentage of rooms for quarantining of guests/staff.
- To use only the hotels that are health and safety certified on the beach. Thereafter, expand the operation to other areas depending on the success of the operation.
- Permit the guests to use the beach area in front of the hotel and get the security forces/Police to secure the beach so that the locals and the tourists will not mingle.
- To convert one of the hotels in the cluster to a hospital to accommodate any guests that needs urgent medical attention.
- To quarantine all staff for 14 days before they are allowed to leave the hotel premises.
- It is compulsory to go through three PCR tests for any tourists arriving in Sri Lanka, the first test prior to boarding of the flight at the point on origin, and the seond test on arrival in Sri Lanka and the third test between the fifth and the seventh day prior to the departure from Sri Lanka. In addition, it is compulsory to have a Covid Insurance Cover.
- All the above points were mentioned in the joint proposal of THASL and SLAITO to minimise the risk to all stakeholders and to revive the tourism industry as it is the worst affected industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This will help generate, valuable foreign exchange for the country.
- The Socio-economic impact of this crisis is huge, therefore, the majority of the stakeholders in the industry are extremely keen to revive tourism conforming to all the health guidelines stipulated by the Ministry of Health.
- The stakeholders in tourism thanked President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Minister of Tourism Prasanna Ranatunga, and Head of Covid Task Force, Basil Rajapaksa for the timely and bold decision taken to resurrect the tourism industry. The support given by Minister of Health Pavithra Wanniarachchi and Health Ministry officials too was much appreciated.