Government steps up moves to make tourism safe and secure for quick revival

Prasanna Ranatunga

The Government this week announced a host of new initiatives to secure and revive the tourism industry with vaccination starting today (10).

Vaccinating tourism staff on the frontline will commence today morning at DoubleTree by Hilton in Weerawila under the observation of Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga and Youth and Sports Minister and Digital Technology and Enterprise Development State Minister Namal Rajapaksa. The program will also be extended to safari drivers at Shangri-La Hotel in Hambantota; other vaccination centres include Anantara Hotel in Tangalle and in Tangalle Town Hall.

Nearly 18,000 tourism frontline workers including employees of Level 1 Safe and Secure certified hotels, certified tour guides, drivers and other hotel employees are waiting to get their vaccines against COVID-19 in the first phase. Further, the program will be helpful to accelerate the vaccination to over 500,000 people directly engaged in the industry.

The Government also decided to permit tourist visa holders for inter-provincial travel from yesterday (9).

The Tourism Ministry implemented the move following President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s instructions.

The Ministry said tourist visa holders who are vaccinated and have received negative PCR test results can move with the community, while those travellers not vaccinated but completed the quarantine period are allowed for inter-provincial visits within the bio-bubble.

The passport and the vaccination certificate will be considered valid documents for inter-provincial travel. All tourists are subject to follow health guidelines issued on 7 July.

The Tourism Ministry has also sought Cabinet approval to set up a laboratory facility at the Bandaranaike Internet Airport (BIA). This dedicated facility will provide PCR test results within three hours to all tourists, enabling a hassle-free experience from the airport to reach their final destination. Once the Cabinet of Ministers gives approval, the facility will be established within the next month.

Several rounds of discussions were held under the patronage of Minister Ranatunga with the Board of Airlines Representatives (BAR) to implement successful concessional travel packages to attract international travellers.

The Government aims to attract a significant number of tourists to the country by the end of this year with a strong commitment to implement the plan under strict health and safety guidelines.

The Minister said he hopes to further extend the already provided relief measures in terms of landing charges, subsidies, fuel prices, disembarkation fees and ground handling charges on airlines operating to Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) through a new Cabinet proposal in the coming weeks.

With the successful implementation of relief packages by the Government after an accelerated vaccination program and successful implementation of the collective strategies, Sri Lanka will be able to attract a significant number of tourists from countries towards the end of the year, which is also the peak season for tourism.

Tourist arrivals in June increased by 7% to 1,614 from May, despite the travel restrictions in place as a result of the ongoing third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Arrivals in the first six months amounted to 16,808, a welcome development since the reopening of borders on 21 January but down by 97% from last year’s first half.

In a related development, the Department of Immigration and Emigration has extended the validity period of all types of visas obtained by foreigners residing in Sri Lanka by 30 days.

The visa extension, which came into effect yesterday, will be effective till 8 August.

The Department said only the visa fees applicable for the said period will be charged from the visas that expire within these 30 days. In addition, visa holders will be exempted from overstay penalties.

The decision was taken while considering the prevailing pandemic situation.

On 11 May, the Immigration and Emigration Department extended the visas of all categories obtained by foreign tourists who are already in Sri Lanka by 60 days, until yesterday.

(Source: Daily FT)

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