Sri Lanka readies for improved tourism fortunes this winter

A decent winter season is expected for Sri Lanka’s tourism industry as the country makes her slow return to normalcy post-pandemic, with at least 450,000 international arrivals projected to stream in between November 2021 and April 2022.

The Sri Lankan government lifted a six-week-long islandwide lockdown on October 1, gradually easing restrictions on hotels, restaurants and shops.

A busier winter travel season is expected, as Sri Lanka eases lockdown amid growing international travel resumption; Galle Dutch Fort, Sri Lanka pictured

“Things are falling into place. I expect between 450,000 and 500,000 arrivals during November to April, with positive signs from operators in traditional markets like Western Europe and the UK,” said Nilmin Nanayakkara, managing director of NKAR Travels & Tours and former president of the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators.

Nanayakkara added that large numbers of travellers from Russia and Ukraine are expected. Both markets have been main contributors of arrivals to Sri Lanka since the airport reopened in mid-January 2021.

Returning traffic from Western Europe and the UK would signal other source markets to follow, he opined.

Sri Lanka is allowing fully vaccinated travellers to enter without PCR tests and quarantine, provided they carry a valid negative Covid-19 test result on arrival.

Echoing Nanayakkara’s optimism, Dimuthu Tennakoon, president, Board of Airline Representatives (BAR), said airline bookings for the winter season have picked up, particularly from Eastern and Central Europe.

In recent times, Russia and Ukraine have topped the list of arrivals to Sri Lanka, with a little more than 13,500 last month.

While performance is still a far cry from pre-pandemic times – a typical September would see more than 100,000 arrivals, Nanayakkara said the return of international flights was a confidence booster.

Come next month, Air France will resume flights to Sri Lanka while Swiss carrier Edelweiss will increase operations from Western Europe. National carrier SriLankan Airlines has also resumed flights to Germany and has increased frequencies to Russia.

Equally encouraging is Sri Lanka’s progress with her national vaccination campaign. The country has vaccinated over 60 per cent of her population against Covid-19, and the vaccination rollout for the rest of the population is progressing at a rapid pace.

The country has also seen a decline in daily average cases. As of October 16, there were 649 daily average cases, compared to more than 2,000 in mid-May 2021.

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