Some 500 foreign tourists coming next week; strict health guidelines

Sri Lanka tourism

Health Services Director General Dr. Asela Gunawardena has given the green light for tourists to come to the country from next week and visit 12 destinations under a pilot project effective till January 19.

Under this project, about 500 tourists a day from Russia and Eastern European countries will be allowed to fly into Sri Lanka on the theme “Bringing tourists under controlled conditions,” a senior Tourism Ministry official said.

Among the 12 destinations selected are Yala, Sigiriya, Dalada Maligawa, Pinnawala, Uda Walawe, Kaudulla and Minneriya. The tourists will be expected to visit the destinations but they will not be allowed to mingle with Sri Lankans. At the Dalada Maligawa the visiting tourists are due to be given a particular time to visit the temple.

However, it was not clear how they would keep away the visitors at locations such as Yala and Pinnawala.

The visitors are expected to undergo a PCR test on arrival at the Bandaranaike International Airport or the Mattala International Airport, a second test in five to seven days while at the hotel and a third test 12-14 days after arrival. A PCR test conducted 96 hours prior to boarding the aircraft is mandatory and a report to this effect should be produced at the time of checking.

A mandatory 14 days period has been fixed for the visitors while they will be able to move in groups only after seven days at the hotel where they would be undergoing quarantine.

The guidelines with regard to site visits require that they should be allowed to visit tourist attractions that are approved by the Ministry of Health. The relevant excursion itineraries should be shared with the local health authorities and the agencies managing such sites in advance.

The guidelines deal with 12 areas such as arrival, transport, quarantine period, PCR testing, visit to tourist sites, asymptomatic and symptomatic COVID-19 PCR positive tourists, hotels and hotel booking.

The guidelines also stated that visa fees, mandatory COVID-19 insurance, cost for the PCR tests should be borne by tourists. Certified hotels where the tourists will stay would not be allowed to accommodate domestic guests for 14 days.

“Hotel staff interacting with these tourists in any form, will not be allowed to go out of the hotel during the 14-day mandatory period for guests and for further 14 days thereafter,” stated the guidelines, virtually confining these staff for one month in the hotel.

Some of the certified hotels were not aware of the new guidelines as late as on Thursday, underscoring the lack of coordination among the participatory bodies.

Hotel Association Chairman Sanath Ukwatta told the Sunday Times that the new Health Ministry guidelines would only be applicable to the Destination Management Companies (DMCs) which bring down tourists, as the Health Ministry guidelines had been issued around six months ago.

Sri Lanka Association for Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) President Thilak Weerasinghe accused Sri Lanka Tourism of failing to issue its guidelines on the issue.

Sri Lanka Institute of National Tour Guide Lecturers President Dr. Mahesh Priyadharshana was of the view that allowing excursions to tourist sites would have negative impact as this should involve many local service providers, such as tour guides, bus drivers and assistants.

“These tourists would be using toilets, restaurants and other amenities during their excursions, where they could come into contact with local people,” he said. “This is a high-risk affair, in view of the new COVID-19 strain spreading fast around the globe,” he warned.

Meanwhile at the end of the pilot project, a review will be carried out to determine whether to amend the guidelines to open the country further for tourism.

(Source: The Sunday Times – By Damith Wickremasekara and Wasantha Ramanayake)