SRI Lanka has lifted a ban on foreigners visiting its once war-torn north, but it might take some time before tourists actually start returning to the area.
Access to the region, where most of the fighting took place during the civil war, has been restricted to foreign passport holders for more than two decades.
Even after the war ended in 2009, permission had to be obtained from Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry to enter, especially as mine-clearing work was ongoing.
“As normalcy is flourishing in the country, we see that travel restrictions for foreign passport holders are no longer required,” the ministry said in a statement on Monday.
Bernard Devanesan, manager of the 24-room deluxe Lux Etoilos hotel in the main northern city of Jaffna, said the hotel had previously been getting many inquiries from France, Germany and Western Europe for bookings.
“There was a lot of interest, but we had to tell them that they needed permission from the military to travel to the north,” he said.
John Keells Holdings’ executive vice-president and head of destination management, Vasantha Leelananda, said although tourism infrastructure in the region was inadequate, the renewed access was definitely a boost for the industry.
There are six to eight hotels in Jaffna, with capacity ranging from 10 to 40 rooms, plus a range of smaller accommodation options for visitors.
Hiran Cooray, chairman of Jetwing Hotels, which is building a three-star property in Jaffna (TTG Asia e-Daily, June 30), said there were many religious and cultural places of interest for tourists to visit.
Imelda Sukumar, divisional secretary and chief government officer in Jaffna, said the local road network was being developed, and that rail links, while not yet operational, were being repaired.
Meanwhile, air access is available via daily flights from Colombo. While currently operated by the Sri Lanka air force, with the lifting of the travel curb, the situation might change with a few other operators coming in.