Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the US Ravinatha Aryasinha has observed that the credibility Sri Lanka Tourism earned in caring for the tourists who made lengthy extensions of their stay in the country at the time COVID broke out, and Sri Lankan Airlines being one of the few carriers that continued to fly when most commercial airline fleets were grounded, should give confidence for international travelers to visit the island once again, now that travel for tourists has resumed. Ambassador Aryasinha noted that prior to COVID curtailed global travel, tourist arrivals from the US had grown by 260% from 2010 to 2019, an annual average growth well over 20%, making the US one of the fastest-growing tourist arrival countries, which mainly drew niche tourists visiting and also staying longer.
The Ambassador made these comments on Wednesday (27 January), when he hosted a virtual ‘Hello Again ; Sri Lanka tourism awareness session’ to announce the re-opening of Sri Lanka for international tourists from the 21 January, and share details of the strategy adopted to ensures tourists enjoyed their stay, while being protected from COVID. The event was organized by the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington D.C., with assistance from the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and the Sri Lankan Airlines GSA office in the U.S., and attracted more than 60 tour & travel partners and media personal, including Expedia and Priceline.
Chairperson of Sri Lanka Tourism Kimarli Fernando said, Sri Lanka is “safe and exciting even during the pandemic”. She noted that “Sri Lanka does not require a minimum number of days to stay in Sri Lanka within the ‘Bio Bubbles’ introduced by the SLTPB. While staying in a secure level 1 hotel recognized by Sri Lanka Tourism, or multiple hotels if needed within the ‘Bio Bubble’, they could use all the facilities of the hotels including SPA, the pool and the restaurants and visit tourist sites within the bubble. These level 1 hotels which have been certified by KPMG, as well as Ernst & Young, provide accommodation exclusively for international tourists. After an initial 14 days of the stay within the ‘Bio Bubble’, travelers will be able to exit from it at any time subject to having a negative PCR test, and be able to interact with the local community. The tourists are required to undergo several PCR tests during their stay, and medical insurance with a premium of 12 Dollars covered all the expenses related to transportation and ICU facility in the event of any difficulty.
Joining the discussion, Chairman, Airport, and Aviation Major General (Rtd) G.A Chandrasiri welcomed passengers to the two Sri Lankan airports – Colombo and Mattala, and emphasized that maximum precautionary measures have been taken to ensure protection of the passengers’ safety.
CEO of the Sri Lankan Airlines Vipula Gunatileka said, although Sri Lankan does not fly to North America, through its strong partnership with ‘One World’, they have solid relationships with British Airways from Toronto, as well as with Qatar Airways and Japan Airlines, whereby Sri Lankan Airlines is able to help tourists from different gateways it has connections with.
Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority Upul Dharmadasa said, the Civil Aviation Authority is working closely with the airlines around the world to facilitate the travel of tourists to Sri Lanka, and reviewing processes constantly to stay abreast of the latest health guidelines.
Sri Lankan Airlines GSA for US, Canada and the Caribbean Dilan Ariyawansa, elaborated on the connections from the various North American cities to Sri Lanka, and the prospects seen of increasing US travelers to Sri Lanka through the pandemic period and beyond.
Director Marketing of Sri Lanka Tourism, Dushan Wickramasuriya, highlighted the potential of the U.S market to attract tourists to different sectors in Sri Lanka – soft adventure, cruise travel, wellness tourism, wildlife, and to promote luxury villas. He said travel partners can also sell tailor-made itineraries encouraging tourists to travel to Sri Lanka to spend few days, when planning to visit countries like Thailand, Maldives, India and others in East Asia and South Asia.
The event coordinated by Second Secretary Niranga Palipana, concluded with an interactive session, where US travel partners sought clarifications and made suggestions on expanding the programme.