Sri Lanka Tourism readies toget tourism industry back on its feet

PUBLISHED April 20, 2020

Sri Lanka Tourism reveals preparation for an early revival of post COVID-19 with the country opening its borders gradually from 20th April 2020.

Last Week, the Cabinet of Sri Lanka approved the critical five-year global promotion initiative, which was a major step taken towards the plan of post COVID-19 revival.

According to Daily FT, Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando commented, "We are now finalising the Terms of Reference and appointment of the Procurement, Project and Technical Evaluation Committees; and will start the process, to be in readiness when the time is right."

Informing that a traveller-focused, evidence-based promotion strategy will be developed, she also said, "The approach focuses on consumer types and will allow for a research supported global promotional campaign for Sri Lanka."

Sri Lanka Tourism is closely working with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in a three-stage strategy of situation assessment, impact assessment and road mapping, to "help get tourism industry back on its feet," says Fernando.

Currently, there are 11,071 registered entities and individuals in the industry in addition to 2,669 accommodation facilities with 39,253 rooms, informed Fernando. "The input and collaboration of all tourism organisations is critical in the current climate, and would be of great benefit in charting the future."

During this unprecedented period, Fernando says it was imperative to address day-to-day matters, whilst maintaining the foresight to plan. "I look to all associations to provide us with their formal proposals to help Sri Lanka Tourism to complete an inclusive long-term strategy," she said, adding that the Sri Lanka Tourism Alliance industry grouping has already submitted a proposal.

"Tourism in Sri Lanka is an industry built on diversity and inclusivity," Fernando highlighted. The tourism sector comprises of 34 associations including regional associations. In addition to the accommodation sector, other associations include Travel Agents (DMCs), Tour Guides and Drivers, inputs from these organisations are counted as essential going forward.

Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson also said COVID-19 provides an opportunity for Sri Lanka tourism to re-profile itself when the time is right. "We can realign our focus towards higher yielding tourists and a unique Sri Lanka experience; while ensuring the safety of travellers, our employees and citizens."

According to the Chairperson, the Sri Lanka Tourisms post COVID-19 approach takes is in two stages the Stage 1 (December Season 2020) and Stage 2 (Post-December 2020). She said Stage 1 focuses on the immediate recovery of the industry, which involves changes to the visa process to include mandatory testing, adjustments to immigration process, airport entry, hotel transfer and certification of hotels to ensure health and safety of tourists, employees and the local community.

Fernando stressed that designated quarantine hotels need to be established with staff safety being paramount. "With the advice from the Ministry of Health, a detailed guideline will be released, and establishments will be audited to ensure compliance," Fernando asserted.

"In the spirit of global solidarity, we would recommend an optional rapid test on departure at Sri Lanka Tourism cost, with results to be instantly messaged. This would provide assurance to tourists as they continue their travels elsewhere.

"When the airport is fully operational, it would be an opportunity to increase flights and connectivity to Sri Lanka as an emerging transit hub in South Asia. This would be a learning from Singapore and Dubais example in building their tourism industry," said Fernando.

With a grateful heart, Chairperson of Sri Lanka Tourism revealed the immense support extended by the Government and the Central Bank to fast track industry recovery. "We look to the banks and financial institutions to support us and stand by our industry. We are personally contacting banks to assist our industry. We are currently working on how to support the industry for payment of salaries for the lower brackets and individuals with no safety net, through engagement with international funding agencies," she said.

On 12 March, when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, there were 76,224 foreign travellers in Sri Lanka. A 24/7 call centre was setup to assist tourists. Safety of the tourists in Sri Lanka were given priority, says Fernando.

Various issues faced included tourist transportation and accommodation due to the closure of hotels and halted travel. Despite the difficulties, Alternative accommodation was found in other hotels and hostels. Sri Lanka Tourism liaised with the Foreign Ministry, embassies, airport authorities and airlines to facilitate safe departure. According to Fernando at present there are 12,329 tourists in Sri Lanka.

She emphasised the resilience and solidarity within the industry and all stakeholders. "We are grateful for the people and businesses; whether it be in accommodation, restaurants, travel agents, tour guides, drivers in the industry and all the connected sectors who have invested in and supported Sri Lanka Tourism. We will focus on the overarching goal of building resilience in the tourism industry."

The Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson also commended the governments preparedness for this pandemic and success in mitigating the impact of the virus. 

"As a nation, we have much to offer in terms of our tranquil tourist experiences, hela vedakhama, indigenous Ayurveda, heritage spices, herbs and traditions. Our nation prides itself in its hospitality and focus on wellbeing. In a post-pandemic world, there will be a greater appreciation of all our nation has to offer. We will soon once again be able to share the beauty of our country with foreign travellers across the globe and welcome them with an ayubowan wishing long life to all," said Fernando.

With shutting down of borders and widespread social distancing, tourism was the worst affected sector following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) which has killed over 150,000 and infecting over two million globally.


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