Sri Lanka has set a reduced, but still, ambitious target of 800,000 foreign tourist arrivals for 2021, far below the earlier planned 2.5 million laid out a few years back, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to bite.
The revised target was set by the country’s Presidential Task Force for Tourism, according to an official at Sri Lanka’s Tourism Promotion Bureau.
The official, who declined to be named, said the authorities had pointed out to the Task Force that 800,000 is an “ambitious” target as based on current arrivals, the country looks set to receiving only up to 350,000 tourists this year, even with an expected surge during summer.
Sri Lanka reopened its borders on January 21 after a 10-month pandemic closure, and recorded 5,048 foreign arrivals in January-February – a steep drop from the 420,941 visitors in the same 2020 period. Total arrivals in 2020 (for the few months the border was open) was 507,704, as compared to 1.9 million in 2019.
The main source markets this year were Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Germany and Russia, according to official data.
Under current rules, there is no mandatory quarantine period on arrival but visitors must get visas online with confirmed hotel booking. They are also required to pre-purchase PCR tests and a mandatory Covid-19 insurance cover costing US$12 which covers US$50,000 worth of hospitalisation or medical bills for a month. In addition, all arrivals must present a valid PCR test taken 96 hours before arrival, while tourists have to stay in the same hotel for the first 14 days of their stay. To date, more than 30 hotels have been approved as Covid-19 certified.
To woo international travellers back, some resorts are dangling various incentives. Recently, Cinnamon Hotels & Resorts – which runs 15 properties in Sri Lanka and the Maldives – became the first hotel chain in Sri Lanka to offer free PCR tests and Covid-19 insurance for all foreign visitors to its properties in Sri Lanka.
While some industry players are urging the authorities to relax the safety guidelines, others believe that the country is still seeing too many fresh Covid-19 cases to drop its guard.
“I think it is still premature to relax the health guidelines as Sri Lanka has not come out of the woods in this pandemic and there are still many Covid-19 cases,” said Anura Lokuhetty, former president of the Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka.
At least 800,000 Sri Lankans have received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, while more supplies are coming from India’s Serum Institute.
Sri Lanka has reported 88,238 Covid-19 cases and 532 deaths.