The travel and tourism industry across the world has been disrupted ever since the COVID-19 pandemic entered our lives in December 2019.
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The multitude of coronavirus cases in the following months forced countries to ban foreign travel for their citizens and close their borders for people arriving from abroad. This adversely impacted the tourism revenue of most countries, including Sri Lanka.
The island country of Sri Lanka had closed its borders for foreigners in April 2020. As a result, only 0.57 million foreign tourists arrived in Sri Lanka in 2020 as compared to 1.91 million in 2019. This led to a drastic fall in the country’s tourism revenue from USD 3.6 billion in 2019 to USD 0.95 billion in 2020. The fall in tourism revenue did not paint a pretty picture for Sri Lanka, especially since a large section of the country’s population depends on tourism for its livelihood.
With the hope to revive its tourism industry, Sri Lanka reopened its borders for international tourists in January 2021 after a gap of nearly 10 months. But unlike the rest of the world, the country came up with a unique concept to welcome foreign tourists while keeping their citizens safe from COVID-19. Sri Lanka introduced the concept of ‘Bio Bubble’ or ‘Safe & Secure Bubble’ for all foreign tourists arriving in the country.
As per the Chairperson of Sri Lanka Tourism, Kimarli Fernando, bio bubbles are roving semi-isolated groups that allow international tourists to visit places in Sri Lanka without interacting or mixing with the local population. It allows the country to provide a quarantine-free experience to foreign tourists allowing them to sightsee certain tourist destinations in a bio bubble. However, they are required to stay in a COVID-Safe hotel for the first 14 days of their stay in Sri Lanka.
It is mandatory to ensure that the visit to the designated tourist spots in Sri Lanka is arranged only through a travel agent or a vehicle arranged by the traveller’s hotel. But the traveller should not interact with the local population at all. Besides, the foreign tourist must carry a valid international travel insurance policy covering their stay in Sri Lanka against any emergency hospitalization expenses arising out of COVID-19. He/she must also go for an RT-PCR test before their departure to Sri Lanka and should also take COVID-19 tests at regular intervals after arriving in the country.
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However, the foreign tourists will be required to travel in bio bubbles only for the first two weeks of their arrival in Sri Lanka. After completing two weeks in the country, the travellers are free to go anywhere and also interact with the local population.
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With the roll-out of vaccines for COVID-19 across the world, Sri Lanka has revised its quarantine guidelines for vaccinated foreign tourists travelling to the country. As per the latest guidelines, vaccinated tourists are required to compulsorily spend only one day in quarantine upon their arrival in Sri Lanka. They will be required to take a PCR test when they arrive in Sri Lanka and quarantine in a COVID-Safe hotel or state quarantine facility until the test report arrives, which takes a day’s time. If the test result is negative, they will receive a discharge document from the quarantine authority at the facility or hotel.
The new quarantine rule applies to all international travellers arriving in the country at least two weeks after receiving the second or final dose of their COVID-19 vaccine. Although such tourists will have to carry their original vaccination certificate along with its copy in the English language.
However, the bio bubble restrictions will still continue to apply to international tourists. The only difference is that the period of travelling in the bio bubble will be reduced from two weeks to only the first seven days of their stay in Sri Lanka. On completing seven days, they will be required to take another PCR test and will be free to travel anywhere in the country after the result for this test also comes as negative.
Summing It Up
The vaccination for COVID-19 has provided much-needed relief to people. Not only is it safeguarding people from COVID-19, but is also allowing countries to reopen their borders and revive the tourism industry. Sri Lanka surely has multiple layers of restrictions for international tourists in a bid to protect its citizens from the threat of COVID-19. But the revised restrictions for vaccinated tourists is undoubtedly a positive step towards attracting foreigners to Sri Lanka just like the pre-COVID times.