Sri Lankan tourism officials are optimistic that inbound tourist arrivals for next year will bounce back to 50 per cent of 2018 numbers – the year where the country recorded the highest international arrivals to date – even as the Omicron variant threatens to hinder the sector’s recovery.
Kimarli Fernando, Sri Lanka Tourism chairperson, told a conference on Tuesday (December 7) that she is confident the country would record an average 100,000 arrivals per month next year, amounting to 1.2 million arrivals for the entire year – approximately half of the 2.3 million arrivals recorded in 2018.
While arrivals started as a trickle following the reopening of the country’s main international airport in mid-January 2021 after a 10-month pandemic closure, there has been a steady increase, with 44,294 arrivals recorded in November.
However, that is still a far cry from pre-pandemic figures. Arrivals from January to November 2021 totalled a mere 104,989. In comparison, there were 507,311 arrivals in the three months from January to March 2020, before the closure of the airport.
Currently, Sri Lanka is open to tourists across the world except visitors from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe who have been banned since November 27 due to the Omicron variant.
All vaccinated travellers entering the country are only required to present a pre-departure negative PCR test result, with no quarantine requirement.
Meanwhile, outbound travel from Sri Lanka hasn’t picked up to pre-pandemic levels, with Omicron being a deterrent due to uncertainty over the possibility of sudden border closures imposed by countries.
The ever-changing travel restrictions have made people unsure about travelling out of the country, Mackinnons Travels CEO Trevor Rajaratnam said, adding that outbound group travel has completely stopped.
Still, travel agents in the country have been actively promoting overseas group tours to normally attractive locations like Dubai, Singapore and Bangkok.
Rajaratnam shared that most Sri Lankans were travelling to Dubai, said to have the easiest on-arrival travel requirements; while some individuals and even families were heading to Singapore and Thailand, but not on group packages due to a greater reluctance to make advanced travel bookings.