By Renishka Fernando
Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka have increased over the past few weeks, but the impact of the coronavirus disease pandemic which has halted global travel is still affecting source markets and the recovery is slow, sources said. tourism sector.
Sri Lanka recorded nearly 52,000 tourist arrivals as of January 19. The largest number came from Russia, ahead of India, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Germany.
The Sri Lanka Tourist Development Authority (SLTDA) said this was a significant increase from 1,682 arrivals in January 2021.
Hotels and restaurants are beginning to pick up speed after nearly two years of inactivity due to the pandemic. Sri Lanka was also ranked 32nd out of 50 in Britain’s Big 7 Travel website’s “most Instagrammable places 2022” list, ahead of cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Phuket, Havana and Seoul.
Singapore ranked first ahead of Boracay in the Philippines and Oahu in Hawaii, which made up the top three. (Full list: https://bigseventravel.com/most-instagrammable-places-world/)
The Chairman of the Hotel Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), Mr Shanthikumar, said bookings for December 2021 and the first three weeks of 2022 had increased.
A spokesman for the Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) said that although there is an increase, it is mainly from Eastern Europe.
He pointed out that it was mostly Sri Lankans who accounted for arrivals from Canada and the United States, which also saw significant numbers.
“A good 50% of British, French and German tourists come from [Sri Lankan] diaspora.”
There are strict border restrictions in China, Japan and South Korea, resulting in few tourists from these countries.
Tourists from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan tend to explore beaches only and have a general interest in surfing.
The tour operator spokesperson said that although bookings are increasing, the Omicron variant has had a significant impact on the European market and summer bookings have slowed.
Nuwan Mahawattage, Secretary General of the National Institute of Tour Guides of Sri Lanka, said the Sunday Times, that reservations for guides are gradually resuming.
Guides now depend on arrivals from Eastern Europe as well as France.
“Arrivals from other parts of the world are low.”
Mr Mahawattage said many guides were unemployed.
“People in Sri Lanka seem to be comfortable with Covid-19, but those in the US, UK and Australia are hesitant to travel,” he said. Omicron makes vacationers think twice about traveling to long-haul destinations. Partial refunds granted in the event of cancellation also add to the lingering uncertainty, he said.
Similar sentiments were shared by industry stakeholders regarding the negative impact of Omicron.
Mr Shanthikumar said the new variant of the coronavirus has particularly affected arrivals from India.
Compliance with health safety instructions remains a priority for hotels and other stakeholders.
Mr Mahawattage said the Sunday Times that a training session was done by the SLTDA on touring during the pandemic. There were “bio-bubble” workshops and protocol updates. A certificate was awarded to tour guide lecturers and travel agents after a written examination. This certificate is mandatory to continue working.
THASL said all staff should be vaccinated with the booster dose, unless people have been medically advised against.
Mr Shanthikumar said all necessary measures for the safety of staff and guests had been taken by the hotels. “A few rooms will still be free in case customers test positive,” he said.
SLAITO also respects the health instructions. In addition, PCR and/or antigen tests are carried out by staff before and after meeting with clients.
Mr Mahawattage said of the outlook: “It will take about a year and a half to two years to get back to how it was before the pandemic. Until source market conditions improve, we will not be able to increase the number of tourist arrivals.
SLTDA Director General Dhammika Wijesinghe said the Sunday Times that the regulations are updated on the advice of the health authorities. Existing guidelines such as wearing a face mask, social distancing and sanitizing are mandatory.
She added that health officials and police will ensure that tourists follow safety measures and that violators are warned. In some places like beaches, face masks are not required.
On January 20, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka imposed on all licensed tourist establishments to accept only foreign currency for services provided to tourists. The move is the latest among various attempts to replenish the country’s meager foreign exchange reserves.
Mr Shanthikumar, said hoteliers welcomed the decision.
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