Is Sri Lanka safe to travel after the COVID-19 pandemic

It is unusually quiet at the Sigiriya rock fortress, the iconic Sri Lankan tourist attraction that attracts thousands of travellers every day. None of the local tour guides to be seen, who are scattered near the entrance of the ancient rock fortress, expecting foreign customers. A large number of tourists are gathering here every day to admire the 5th-century rock fortress complex with one of the oldest landscaped gardens in the world. But Corona pandemic has emptied the tourist site and sent all guides on compulsory unpaid leave.      

Coronavirus has crippled the life of the vast majority of people around the world. All lives, which had been caught in an unprecedented race was stopped without any prior notice. We had to stop the race, it was mandatory for most of us. The Coronavirus lockdown urged us to confine ourselves to our homes. The Coronavirus lockdown was a novel experience for most of us in Sri Lanka and it has made a formidable change in our lives. According to the experts, the virus has taught us many important lessons and now we have to continue the life with the presence of the virus at our doorstep.

Impact of Covid-19 to Sri Lanka tourism industry

Many industries were largely affected by Coronavirus and tourism is one of the industries, which was hard hit by Coronavirus. The people in agriculture sectors are the least affected by the CORONA virus in Sri Lanka. Because the farmers were given permission to carry out their farming activities even during the lockdown period. Other sectors such as fishing community, manufacturing sector and food sector are also hit but not as much as the tourism sector. 

Sri Lankan economy was in a bad shape even before the Covid-19 Pandemic. The GDP growth was reduced to 2.2% in 2019 from 5% in 2015. With the Covid-19 the things god worst. The tourism earning was plummeted to 0 starting from March 2019 and the recovery of the industry will be a long and slow.

The tourism industry was having very grim past, especially during the 30 years civil war. During the 30 years starting from 1983, only a negligible development took places in the tourism sector, due to the unstable security.

There had been a tourism boom after 2009, with the ending of civil war. The number of foreign travellers is increased to 2 million from half a million within a short period of time. The industry was booming after the 2009 and tourism sector was identified as a key industry to develop the country’s economy.

Unfortunately, the Easter Sunday attack in 2019, on churches and tourist hotels was another huge blow to the industry. The incident caused the number of tourists on the island to reduce by more than 75%. However, the tourism sectors had been able to make a rapid recovery after the eastern attack. 1 year after easter Sunday massacre now it is COVID-19 another formidable challenge for the tourism industry.

Easing of lockdown restriction in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan government has announced a set of medical protocols allowing the gradual recovery of the Sri Lankan tourism industry. Sri Lanka is widely popular as a regional model for leisure holidays and nature tourism thanks to its pristine beaches, primavera rainforests, wildlife reserves, historical monuments and mountains, where adrenaline-pumping activities readily available.

Sri Lanka has reported 2000 coronavirus cases by 25th June 2020 and 11 deaths to date, which is considerably lower compared to most countries around the world. While coronavirus cases continue to rise due to the arrival of Sri Lankan expatriates- the loss of many thousand jobs has the put pressure on the Sri Lankan government to resume the tourism industry.

While hotels, eateries, wildlife reserves, are permitted to entertain travellers with restricted capacity, (around 50% of capacity), further easing had taken place in order to allow the people to engage in religious activates in temple, churches and other religious places. Universities and schools are scheduled to start in the month of July.

According to the statistics around 2 million people are directly and indirectly involved in the tourism industry. On the other hand, tourism is one of the most important sectors that is heavily contributing to Sri Lanka’s economy. This hard currency source dried out without any warning with the travel restrictions came into effect in the month of March.

A large number of foreign travellers stranded in Sri Lanka due to the flight grounding

Sri Lankan government also closed its airport on 17th March in view of controlling imported CORONA patients. The government-imposed travel restriction within the island and people were restricted to homes. After more than 2 months of the lockdown, the government started to ease the CORONA virus curfew gradually and urged the people to follow safety protocol as they get used to the usual life.

4 months after 17th March, it seems to be, now the dust is starting to settle down and we can see the speck of light. All Sri Lankans people have been able to go about their usual life thanks to the farsighted CORONA prevented program carried out by the medical staff, police and armed forces. 

As per the government information no CORONA patient was discovered on the island over the last 40 days. However, the Sri Lankan expatriates, who arrived on the island recently are contributing to the CORONA patient pool. Still, a large number of expatriates are staying in quarantine centres while some more Sri Lankan expatriates are hoping to arrive the island in the near future.

Gradual and controlled opening of Sri Lanka for tourists

According to Sri Lanka’s tourism minister, Prasanna Ranatunga, the government is planning to open the airport foreign travellers from 1st August 2020, “We are opening the airport for foreign travellers from 1st august 2020, but it can be even before that, in the month of July” said the tourism minister. A large number of people were expecting to hear that message, which was welcomed by all stakeholders of the tourism industry. According to the Sri Lankan tourism authorities, the island will be open to travellers from all countries around the world.

The country will be open to international travellers, but it will be a gradual and controlled process as per the Sri Lankan tourism authorities. “We have already introduced safety guidelines for most businesses including the tourism sector, pertaining to post Corvid operations,” According to the Anil Jasinghe health ministry.

In the meantime, all Zoological gardens and national parks reopened for the visitors from 15th June 2020. The Department of National Museums Sri Lanka announced on 26th June 2020 that all museums across the island will be open for public from 1st July onward. Secretary to the Ministry of Buddhasasana, cultural and religious affairs announced that all archaeological sites also will be opened for visitors on 1 st July 2020 onward.

Health protocol for post-corvid operation

Sri Lankan tourist board circulated a set of health protocol pertaining to the tourist industry last week. Which was on par with most other health guidelines issued by most other countries around the world. “The guidelines can be accepted by world travellers, and they are in highest standard for security and traceability- and that minimize the risk of transmitting the virus to the local staff,” said the chief of Sri Lanka hotel association.

The health protocol issued by the Sri Lankan tourist boards is formulated by the health authorities after a discussion with private operators and government officials. It will be applicable to all stakeholders in the tourism industry such as hoteliers, restaurants, travel agencies, car rental firms, local transport, spa and wellness tourism, among others.

Sri Lanka is mainly a leisure holiday destination and a large number of travellers take part in beach holidays. Visiting places such as historical monuments, wildlife parks and rainforests are also some other important activities.   

The protocol governs the guidelines of using face masks on public areas, on vehicles, the cleaning and disinfection of hotels and other properties, where the travellers come across. The disinfection of equipment while on Sri Lanka trips or visiting tourist attractions- and how to maintain social distancing guidelines.

Sri Lanka successfully controlled the COVID-19

Sri Lanka has been able to control the pandemic successfully, despite the surge of Covid-19 cases across many south Asian countries. There is a sudden increase of Corvid patients in Indian, Pakistan, Bangladesh as well as the Maldives. India is an important destination for Sri Lanka’s tourism sector, however, due to the sudden increase of Covid-19 patients, it is highly unlikely that India will be a viable option for the revival of Sri Lanka tourism in the near future.

Even though some countries have eased Covid-19 restrictions, travel restrictions are still in place across most countries around the world. European countries such as UK, Germany, France and Spain are important countries for Sari Lanka’s tourism industry. But due to the economic fallout resulted through the Covid-19 and travel restrictions in European countries create glimmer hope on European based incoming tourist to the island.

Easing the travel restriction for outbound travellers

Sri Lanka received nearly 2 million travellers a year before the corona outbreak. The outbreak of corona pandemic started in the month of the march of 2020, which is usually a good month for the tourism industry with a large number of tourist arrival. A large number of tourists curtailed the duration of their holidays and left the country before the flight restriction come into effect in the month of March. However, around 11000 tourists had opted to continue with their Sri Lankan trip and they were stranded in the island resorts. A large number of them were staying in beach resorts such as Mirissa and Weligama while some others were staying in mountain resorts such as Ella, and Kandy.  

The government eased the flight restriction on 17 May. Only the outgoing passengers were allowed to enter the airport, allowing the travellers, who were stranded on the island to leave for their home countries. During the lockdown, nearly 3 months, the foreign travellers were assisted by the Sri Lankan tourist board and their visas were extended without any charge. Local people had also helped foreign travellers by providing free accommodation and food and various other things.

The foreigners praise treatments they received during the lockdown

There are many social media posts circulating on the internet about the guest treatments of Sri Lankan people during the lockdown period. A large number of tourists were praising the assistance they were received from the government and the people of Sri Lanka. According to the information, no tourist had been affected due to unexpected lockdown.

Compulsory quarantine for travellers arriving before 1st August

All travellers arriving on the island until 1st August 2020 will be directed to quarantine centres, where they are quarantined for 21 days. To the convenience of luxury seekers, few hotels have converted their hotels to quarantine centres. The travellers can get a room in one of those hotels at a lower price than they usually pay. Same times government-managed quarantine centres are also can be used during the isolation period, however, they provide basic facilities.

The set of guidelines issued by the Sri Lankan tourist board for the travellers arriving after 1st August

First, the guests have to pass the temperature check and face a PCR test at the airport. Later, he or she will proceed to a hotel near the airport for the overnight stay or until your PCR test result is issued. This will be procedure at the airport when you travel to Sri Lanka in the post COVID period.

A new set of health guidelines are also issued by the health authorities for incoming travellers with the opening of Sri Lanka airports in the post-COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines as below,

  • Only online visa available, visa on arrival is not available until further notice
  • The travellers should spend Minimum 5 – nights in Sri Lanka.
  • All travellers should have done a PCR test (test result should be produced at the airport) before boarding Sri Lanka bound flight from their respective country. This test result should be negative for COVID-19, and the test should be no older than 72 hours prior to boarding.
  • Upon arrival in Sri Lanka, a PCR test would be conducted at the airport.
  • Another PCR test will be done before the guests leaving the country
  • The first night of their Sri Lankan trip should be in a nearby hotel to the Colombo airport.  
  • If travellers do not show the COVID-19 symptoms, they are allowed to continue with the Sri Lanka trip as planned.
  • If a traveller has a positive result for COVID-19, he or she will be directed to a quarantine centre or the hospital.
  • If symptoms are detected, an individual would have to undergo quarantine for 14 to 21 days.
  • The temperature checks will be done during the trip
  • The guests need to submit a copy of the tour itinerary before starting the trip
  • The travellers must not use public transport