Dec 22, 2020

Russian tour operators want guarantee from Govt. on reopening Lankan borders Featured

Russia-based tour operators have sought categorical assurance and a formal announcement from the Government on several relaxed rules to travel to Sri Lanka under a proposed pilot project set to start this weekend.

They claimed to date there has been neither an official declaration from the Government nor a final announcement on the guidelines on reopening borders.

The Government has decided to reopen Sri Lanka’s borders on 26 December as a pilot project, aiming to assess the protocols that have been put in place to handle the influx of tourists once the country’s borders are formally opened for international tourism by mid-January.

The major concerns of Russian travel operators are: Official declaration of border opening is not widely published in Russia, Ukrainian, Kazakhstan; official health guidelines from Sri Lankan Government about the border opening program have not been published by any tourism-related organisation in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan such as COVID test procedure, assurance on the hotel territory permitted for the tourists to move around and visa procedure; and minimum stay of seven days is not highlighted officially by the Government.

According to tour operator Kompas, a leading Kazakhstan travel firm, “Even tourists are interested about Sri Lanka and inquire about the packages, but they are reluctant to purchase a package without the categorical assurance from the Government.”

In a letter dated 18 December addressed to former Lankan Ambassador to Russia and architect of the new initiative Udayanga Weeratunga, the tour operator had requested categorical assurance from the Government on the pilot project to reopen borders.

“In case of failure, we are afraid that the flights will have to be cancelled by us as there is less demand,” they warned.

Industry sources confirmed that former Ambassador to Russian Federation Weeratunga had almost singlehandedly arranged 38 charter flights from Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan from end December to January, as a pilot project prior to formal opening of the airport.

“This will help the industry to understand the new health protocols before the country opens up to welcome foreign visitors,” industry stakeholders told the Daily FT.

They also said that the pilot project was the same initiative which was approved by the Cabinet to bring 44,000 tourists from the Russian Federation. This Cabinet paper was tabled as a joint Cabinet paper by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga recently.

(Daily FT)