Hoteliers split on Sri Lanka’s strict protocols for tourists

Tourism players fear that visa fee and stringent health protocols may deter foreign visitors to Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s decision to impose stringent Covid-19 testing protocols when it reopens its doors to foreign tourists on August 1 has divided local tourism industry stakeholders.

Some industry players, who declined to be named, are up in arms over the stringent Covid-19 testing protocols. The chairman of a local hotel chain said: “At this rate, tourists would prefer to stay home than come to Sri Lanka.”

Tourism players fear that stringent health protocols may deter foreign visitors to Sri Lanka

However, the heads of two key associations representing hotels and travel agents said such testing protocols are necessary to maintain Sri Lanka’s success in countering Covid-19. The country has seen 1,880 confirmed cases as at June 13, with a death toll of 11.

Sanath Ukwatte, president of The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, said that those stringent measures help curtail pandemic spread. “The best-case scenario would be no restrictions imposed on tourists. However, we need to respect the health authorities who are doing their utmost to contain this imported disease,” he said.

He projected tourist numbers to be low in the first few months, and urged authorities to revise those protocols as foreign arrivals gradually tick back upwards “three to four months after reopening”.

Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators president Mahen Kariyawasam told TTG Asia that authorities had altered an earlier proposal to impose a visa fee on arriving tourists from US$100 to US$35, after they raised concerns that the high visa fee might deter visitors.

Earlier on, the US$35 visa fee was abolished after the 2019 Easter Sunday attacks, to instead allow free-visa entry in a bid to revive the hammered tourism sector. But the authorities had initially planned to increase visa fee rates to US$100, as Sri Lanka had lost millions of dollars last year in revenue following the promulgation of the visa-free arrival scheme.

However, on top of the reinstated US$35 visa fee, arriving tourists will now also have to fork out up to US$65 for Covid-19 tests, depending on the length of their stay.

As per tourism guidelines issued on June 5, travellers need to stay for a minimum five nights and should reside in certified accommodation providers (hotels) which will be listed on the Sri Lanka Tourism website. Details of their hotel bookings are required for the online visa application.

Visitors are required to take a Covid-19 swab test on arrival at the airport, but need not serve quarantine unless symptoms are detected, the guidelines said. However, they would have to stay in the airport until test results are out within four to five hours.

The guidelines also state that a second test will be done four to five days after arrival by a mobile unit in coordination with the certified accommodation provider. Travellers staying for more than 10 days will be required to take a third test during their stay.

Asked whether the enforcement of multiple tests would be a deterrent to visit the country, Kariyawasam said that other countries are imposing compulsory quarantine periods on arriving travellers, whereas in Sri Lanka, visitors are allowed to check into their hotel after testing negative for Covid-19 upon arrival.

“For the first few months, I think we would attract visitors from the Asian region, as there are very few inquiries from Europe,” he said, adding that the European traffic is expected to pick up by early next year. While India and China are Sri Lanka’s main inbound sources, Europe is the largest regional source.

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