21 January saw airports being reopened for foreign travel after almost a year of border lockdown. To mark the occasion, Sri Lanka Tourism hosted an online international trade and media conference “Seeing is believing”, shedding light on the protocols and systems in place to protect both foreign travellers visiting Sri Lanka as well as local communities. The webinar consulted with members of the first foreign tour operator and media delegation to visit Sri Lanka post-re-opening borders, with members sharing their personal experiences of visiting Sri Lanka mid-pandemic.
The panel was presided over by Sri Lanka Promotions Bureau General Manager Krishantha Fernando and Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando along with members of the foreign tour operator and media delegation including Nueu Wege Managing Director Markus Hegemann, Fit-Reisen Group Managing Director Claudia Wagner, Fit-Reisen Head of Ayurveda Uwe Endres, and Thailand Lifestyle Ltd. Founder and Editor in Chief Nathalie Gutterman.
The foreign tour operator and media delegation visited Sri Lanka for a two-week Ayurveda retreat in a bid to promote Sri Lanka as an Ayurveda and wellness destination to Germany and Europe.
Travelling to Sri Lanka in the new normal
Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Fernando shared that the last two years have been tough for Sri Lanka, who has had to deal with the aftermath of the 2019 Easter attacks followed by the pandemic. Through the pandemic, Sri Lanka Tourism has worked with the health authorities to implement protocols and practices that benefit both the traveller and local communities.
Fernando explained that travellers to Sri Lanka mid-pandemic will be required to take a PCR test prior to departing their home country followed by a PCR test on arrival in Sri Lanka, following which they will be able to stay at pre-approved Level One hotel where they are able to make use of the hotel’s full facilities during their stay. Level One hotels are hotels that have been authorised to accommodate foreign travellers. This said, travellers are encouraged to stay in their rooms as much as possible for the first 24 hours of their stay or until they receive the results of their PCR test so any potential Covid-19 spread can be minimised. Fernando also explained that most PCR test results are received well within 24 hours, with 48 hours typically being the maximum time taken for results to be received.
Once the results of the PCR test on arrival in Sri Lanka have been received, and if it’s negative, travellers are then free to travel within Sri Lanka provided they stay at Level One hotels and limit their visits to the list of pre-approved tourist, wildlife, and heritage sites that are able to accommodate foreign travellers. The complete list of these hotels and destinations may be found on the Sri Lanka Tourism website. Destinations that are approved for visits by foreign travellers include sites like Yala National Park, Wilpattu National Park, and Sigiriya as well as activities like whale watching.
For those travellers whose PCR tests return positive, Fernando shared that the specialist Covid-19 insurance issued to foreign travellers will cover Covid-19-related treatments and expenses up to $ 50,000. On a practical level, travellers who are asymptomatic will be confined to their hotel rooms until they have recovered. If travellers are symptomatic and are in need of treatment, they will be transferred to a private hospital for treatment with all costs being covered by their Covid-19 insurance. Fernando stressed that the Covid-19 insurance framework has been designed so that travellers do not need to worry should they contract Covid-19 while in Sri Lanka.
The new travel experience and SL as an Ayurveda and wellness destination
The members of the foreign tour operator and media delegation shared their personal experiences visiting Sri Lanka, stating that they were proud to be visiting Sri Lanka as ambassadors for Ayurveda tourism, noting that the pandemic and social distancing had not dimmed their ability to feel the warmth of Sri Lankan hospitality which had come through in all aspects of their visit.
Speaking on Ayurveda, the panel explained that the capacity of Ayurveda to strengthen the immune system and promote general wellness made Sri Lanka an important destination for wellness, especially right now, as Sri Lanka is one of the very first South Asian countries to reopen their borders to foreign travellers.
The panel shared that Ayurveda would be a new experiential approach for tourism in Sri Lanka and that demand for wellness and wellbeing holidays is growing in Europe, with inquiries into Sri Lanka as a destination having already been received by some tour operators.
Speaking on the German market in particular, the panel shared that the German people have grown accustomed to social distancing and wearing masks, and this will not hamper them in a vacation setting. Commenting on Europe in general, and how long it might take tourism to recover from the beating it has taken in 2020, the panel explained that this is difficult to gauge given that Covid-19 is a rapidly evolving situation in Europe, with restrictions being introduced and relaxed as necessary to contain the threat.
The panel was cautiously optimistic for summer 2021, however, feeling that it could be better than normal if restrictions are relaxed because of a high demand for relaxed travel that has been heavily suppressed for a while.