The rationale to open the country for tourism with the necessary health and safety guidelines.
At a meeting convened by H.E. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the 29thof September 2020 together with senior Government officials and the private sector, H. E. requested to explore the possibility of reviving Sri Lanka’s tourism industry whilst conforming to health and safety guidelines issued by the health authorities.
The tourism sector is the 3rdlargest foreign exchange earner in Sri Lanka and have shown a significant growth in tourist arrivals over a decade up to 2018. It was well on its way to be the 2ndhighest foreign exchange earner with a target revenue of US $ 10 Billion in the near future.
Tourism with its huge multiplier effect is estimated to have contributed over 10% of the country’s GDP both from formal and the informal sectors. The direct and indirect employment in the sector is over 800,000 and more than 2 Million people of 10% of Sri Lanka’s population is dependent on tourism.
The tourism industry took a massive hit after the Easter attack in April, 2019. The second blow was the Covid – 19 which started to negatively impact the industry by the beginning of 2020. The industry which has shown great resilience over the years, is struggling for survival with stakeholders small, medium and large suffering with zero earnings.
As requested by Hon. Prasanna Ranatunga, Minister of Tourism, a joint committee was formed by Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) and the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO). The main purpose of forming the committee was to work on a joint proposal to revive the tourism industry with the necessary health guidelines. The joint committee had several rounds of discussion and meetings to agree on a model that will ensure the safety of the citizens, guests and all service providers involved in the operation.
SLAITO also engaged Association for Small & Medium Enterprises In Tourism (ASMET) & One Voice One industry members in the tourism process of formulating the proposal to open the country for tourism. Some of the key suggestions that have been included in the proposal is given below:
To work on a concept of a ‘Travel Bubble’. This means to create a cluster of hotel rooms in identified locations with hotels being adjacent to each other. Some examples are Passikudah Bay area, Bentota tourism zone and Koggala.
A tourist arriving in Sri Lanka should stay in a level one hotel for a minimum of 7 days. After 7 days a tourist can move to any other level one hotel if the 2nd PCR test taken in Sri Lanka is negative.
Initially, to identify the countries and form travel corridors from where tourists should be permitted to arrive in Sri Lanka in order to have low risk travel corridors.
Each hotel to be permitted to sell a limited number of rooms and to allocate a percentage of rooms for quarantining of guests/staff.
To use only the hotels that are health and safety certified on the beach. Thereafter, expand the operation to other areas depending on the success of the operation.
Permit the guests to use the beach area in front of the hotel and get the security forces / Police to secure the beach so that the locals and the tourists will not mingle.
To convert one of the hotels in the cluster to a hospital to accommodate any guests that needs urgent medical attention.
To quarantine all staff for 14 days before they are allowed to leave the hotel premises.
It is compulsory to go through 3 PCR tests for any tourists arriving in Sri Lanka, the first test prior to boarding of the flight at the point on origin, and the 2nd test on arrival in Sri Lanka and the 3rd test between 5th and the 7th day prior to the departure from Sri Lanka. In addition, it is compulsory to have a Covid Insurance Cover.
All the above points were mentioned in the joint proposal of THASL and SLAITO to minimize the risk to all stakeholders and to revive the tourism industry as it is the worst affected industry due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This will help generate, valuable foreign exchange for the country.
The Socio-economic impact of this crisis is huge, therefore, the majority of the stakeholders in the industry are extremely keen to revive tourism conforming to all the health guidelines stipulated by the Ministry of Health.
The stakeholders in tourism wish to thank H. E. The President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the Hon. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Hon. Prasanna Ranatunga, Minister of Tourism and Hon. Basil Rajapaksa, Head of Covid Task Force for the timely and the bold decision taken to resurrect the tourism industry. The support given by Hon. Pavithra Wanniarachchi Minister of Health and Health Ministry officials too is much appreciated.
The industry stakeholders appreciate very much the efforts of the Hon. Minister of Tourism who worked tirelessly with his officials to secure the support of other ministries to open the borders of the country for tourism. We look forward to working together under the guidance of the Hon. Minister of Tourism to make the tourism industry the number 01 foreign exchange earner for the country within the next few years.