SL expects 200,000 tourists during rest of 2021

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Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is expecting over 200,000 tourists in the last two months of the year, banking on greater air connectivity, promotional activities, eased travel restrictions and successful vaccination rollout efforts.

“We are expecting around 200,000 tourists from November to December,” Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga told the Daily FT.

He also said that the industry had earned over $ 130 million since the reopening of the borders on 21 January.

“We are pushing forward all efforts targeting a surge in winter traffic after a lapse of two years and hope the industry will rebound to normalcy by the end of next year,” he pointed out.

The Minister also said National Carrier SriLankan Airlines was keen to expand its frequency between Colombo and Paris, given the favourable response received from French travellers.

SriLankan Airlines commenced its scheduled flights to the French capital on 30 October, after a lapse of six years. Currently, it operates non-stop flights to France every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday using a fleet of Airbus A330-300 aircraft.

The Tourism Minister said the introduction of direct flight services between Colombo and Paris would assist a faster revival of the tourism in the country and more tourists from France were expected in coming months due to the commencement of the winter season in Europe.

After nearly 30 years, the French flag carrier, Air France, also returned to Sri Lanka last week, with three weekly direct flights between Paris and Colombo. In addition, Swiss International Airlines, a member of Lufthansa Group, began weekly direct flights to Sri Lanka on 5 November, after a lapse of two years.

In a related development, Sri Lanka Tourism has stepped up its efforts by launching a new promotional event to woo more French travellers this winter, and a meeting in this regard was held recently in France led by the Tourism Minister, Ambassador/Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka to UNESCO Prof. Kshanika Hirimburegama, Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando and Airport and Aviation Services (Lanka) Ltd. Chairman Major General (Retd.) G.A. Chandrasiri.

The officials met with French media personnel, tour operators and travel agents at a meeting held on 9 November at the Shangri-La Hotel in France.

With the commencement of more international airlines from Europe, the Minister said Sri Lanka was optimistic of the winter season from October to April next year.

The Government approved five new airlines to operate into Sri Lanka before the end of this year, three of which – Sweden’s Edelweiss, Russia’s Aeroflot and Air France – commenced operations last week.

In addition, popular European carrier LOT Polish Airlines will resume direct flights twice-a-week from 7 December, whilst Russia’s charter airline Air Azur and Italy’s leisure airline Neos Air will fly twice-a-week to Colombo from the first week of December.

The Minister also said the booster vaccine against COVID-19 would be rolled out for tourism and aviation staff before the end of this month, adding Sri Lanka was on the top of a successful vaccination drive, becoming one of the safest destinations for post-COVID travel.

“Sri Lanka has reached an important milestone with the successful vaccination drive, where fully-vaccinated citizens comprise of 63% of the 22 million total population,” he added.

As per provisional data, 9,545 tourists have arrived in the country within the first week of November, reinforcing the industry’s optimism for the winter season.

The Tourism Ministry said from 1-7 November, a total of 3,107 tourists from India had arrived, making it the top source market, followed by 774 from Russia and 764 from the UK. There were also travellers from Germany, Pakistan, the Maldives, France, Canada, the US and Switzerland in the first week of the month.

With the arrivals up to 7 November added, the cumulative tourist arrivals since the reopening of borders on 21 January is 70,633. As of now, October has seen the highest tourist arrivals of 22,771, propelling the first 10 months’ figure to 60,695.

As per Sri Lanka Tourism, fully vaccinated tourists can now stay at any type of accommodation without an on-arrival PCR test and they can enjoy a ‘flexible bio-bubble’ with all facilities of the hotels made available, while being allowed to visit approved tourist sites. They are also exempted from obtaining the mandatory COVID-19 local insurance cover, subject to comprehensive travel insurance that will cover health and other expenses related to COVID.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is of the view that the tourism industry must gradually be opened up with lesser restrictions for international travellers along with the aggressive vaccination drive, as it is a key foreign exchange earning sector for the economy.

Sri Lanka has lost around $ 10 billion in foreign exchange earnings due to the pandemic since early last year.