- Charumini de Silva -
Following the successful containment of COVID-19, Sri Lanka Tourism said yesterday it is readying to welcome travellers from across the world, assuring further health safety measures from 1 August though new conditions apply.
Apart from multiple PCR tests, all future tourists will be required to apply for visa online, pay a flat fee of $ 100 each (except nationals from countries where there is reciprocal fee-free visa) and minimum stay of five nights at hotels and resorts certified to be compliant with COVID-19 health safety guidelines.
“Sri Lanka Tourism will provide international visitors with the highest standards of safety as we embrace tourists from across the world to experience the beauty of our paradise island once more,” Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando said.
She said that the regulatory body – Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) – has put in place all precautions recommended by global health and travel authorities to reopen the country to tourists.
Fernando said Colombo›s Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and Ratmalana International Airport (RIA) as well as Hambantota’s Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) will be opened from 1 August for international travellers from all nations.
“The issuing of visas will be only online and must be applied for prior to travel,” Fernando added.
The online visa procedure and requirements for tourists from 1 August are: A negative PCR test report from an accredited laboratory taken within 72 hours prior to landing in Sri Lanka; A confirmed travel itinerary covering at least five nights at certified accommodations; A valid return air ticket; Travel insurance with health and hospitalisation cover and a visa fee of $ 100 will be applicable.
Last year a free visa was given to 48 countries after Easter Sunday which expired on 30 April. As per the Department of Immigration and Emigration, visa fee until COVID-19 shutdown ranged from $ 0.75 (Pakistanis) to a high of $ 200 (Tanzanian nationals). Visa fee for some of Sri Lanka›s top tourist source markets are India ($ 3) China ($ 19), UK ($ 54), Germany ($ 27), France ($ 26) and Russia ($ 25). On average $ 30 to $ 40 was applicable for a Lankan visa.
Fernando, in an interview with the Daily FT, justified the $ 100 flat visa fee on the basis that it partly covers the cost of PCR tests which need to be conducted and additional health and safety measures.
She also revealed that the free-visa scheme during one year since the Easter Sunday attacks cost the Government Rs. 6 billion for six months.
In response to queries regarding procedure for arrivals from 1 August of Sri Lankans or dual passport holders, Fernando said she is unable to provide any guidance yet and those concerned need to await instructions from the Government.
“Arrival of Sri Lankans or dual passport holders are not considered tourists though expat Sri Lankans contribute to the tourism sector by visiting sites, restaurants, hotels etc.,” Fernando acknowledged.
She said that tourists will not have to undergo quarantine procedures but a mandatory health screening and sanitising process including a PCR test will be conducted at arrival airports free-of-charge, and will be transferred through pre-booked transportation to designated hotels in close proximity to the airport, to await their PCR test results which would be expected within 24 hours.
First night pending the test result could be in a selected certified hotel in Colombo or Negombo for arrivals at BIA/RIA and in and around Hambantota for arrivals at MRIA. Sri Lanka Tourism will conduct further PCR tests free-of-charge, for any tourists staying longer than five nights.
Fernando also said an independent health and safety audit process will shortly commence to certify registered entities, starting from accommodation providers that paid the Tourism Development Levy (TDL). They include five-star hotels, boutique hotels/villas, four-star, three-star, hostels, rest houses and homestays.
“All registered accommodation providers will be certified. To give confidence to early visitors and to avoid setbacks to recovery if cases occur at hotels, it is important to prioritise establishments that have high health and safety standards and documented attention to detail,” Fernando said.
“Our industry is diverse and a significant segment is the SME sector, and in this regard we have sought the support of an international grant to support the SME segment to achieve certification,” she added.
Sri Lanka Tourism has developed guidelines and necessary precautionary measures for all stakeholders to adopt in their operations, to ensure the safety of international travellers. All major tourist attractions are also required to have a COVID-19 health and safety protocol as per the guidelines and will have spot audits to ensure compliance.
Fernando said this guideline will soon be available on the Sri Lanka Tourism website (www.sltda.gov.lk/) and will be updated periodically to reflect latest global best practices and risk levels. A FAQ section too can be accessed on this site.
Fernando emphasised that Sri Lanka has been highly successful in its efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 and has proven that the country is not just the world’s number one travel destination, but also a destination with an excellent health care system.
“As at 20 May, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health declared zero community transmission for over three weeks. Comprehensive guidelines are in place for the public at all times including hand hygiene and social distancing,” she said.
Fernando’s message for would-be tourists from 1 August was: “Ranked as the number one country for travel in 2019 by Lonely Planet, Sri Lanka offers a diverse range of attractions from pristine beaches to lush green mountains and is known as an island that offers ‘unmissable experiences’.”