Tourists trickle back to Sri Lanka after borders fully reopen to all except UK visitors

Sri Lanka has welcomed its first batch of visitors from Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, after reopening its borders to foreign tourists last Thursday, following a 10-month pandemic-induced closure.

The lifting of the ban on all commercial travellers, bar those from the UK which is currently under lockdown amid a virus surge, comes after a successful pilot project to test the waters ahead of the country’s full reopening. Started on December 28, the month-long pilot project involving Ukraine tourists ended on Sunday with a total of 1,700 arrivals.

All foreign visitors, except UK travellers, can now enter Sri Lanka under strict health protocols

A Sri Lankan Tourism official said on Sunday that since the reopening of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and the Mattala International Airport (MRIA) for commercial travel, the country has seen “a trickle of arrivals”, but is hopeful that “interest would catch up” down the road.

As of Sunday, less than 100 tourists including a group of five travel agents and two journalists whose agenda is to examine Sri Lanka’s potential for wellness holidays, have arrived in the country. A group of Chinese visitors are due to arrive this week, while the country expects to start receiving Russian tourists from next month, with SriLankan Airlines resuming flights to Moscow from February 15. To date, 15 airlines have scheduled regular flights to Sri Lanka.

As Sri Lanka reopens its doors to the world, every effort has been made to ensure that the island country is “safe, secure and serene” for visitors, Sri Lanka Tourism chairperson Kimarli Fernando told a conference in Colombo on Thursday. She said breaching the health guidelines could amount to an offence, urging travel and tour agencies to inform their clients of the strict regulations in place and to ensure no violations occur during their tours.

Under the health guidelines, visitors need not serve a mandatory quarantine on arrival, but they must obtain a visa online, and a mandatory Covid-19 insurance cover costing US$12, which covers US$50,000 worth of hospital or medical bills for a month. All visitors must also present a valid PCR test taken 96 hours before arrival.

Travellers also have to pre-purchase PCR tests online prior to setting foot in the country. Each test costs US$40. The first test will be taken on arrival at their hotel, and the second, after five to seven days or at the onset of symptoms. A third test is required for visitors staying between 10-14 days.

A pre-confirmed booking at a safe and secure certified hotel is also required for the first 14 days. A quarter of the room inventory in these hotels will be kept vacant to be used as health facilities in case tourists have to self-quarantine.

Sri Lanka’s main source markets are India, the UK, Russia and China. The country attracts around two million tourists a year, but officials said no targets have been set for this year.

As of Saturday, Sri Lanka has reported 57,587 cases of Covid-19 and 280 related-deaths.

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