themorning.lkA total of 27 flights are currently operating to and from Sri Lanka since the opening of the borders to all international tourists on 21 January 2021, according to (Retd.) Maj. Gen. G.A. Chandrasiri.
Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Chandrasiri said that the flights operating include SriLankan Airlines, Qatar Airways, China Airways, Singapore Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Ukraine International Airlines, Oman Air, Emirates, LOT Polish Airlines, Air Astana, Gulf Air, and others.
“We are having discussions with Maldives Airlines right now and we are planning to start flights from there too,” Chandrasiri added.
Meanwhile, in this context, Minister of Tourism Prasanna Ranatunga said prior to the pandemic, about 80 airlines were operating to and from Sri Lanka; however, it might take a couple of months to get those airlines back on board. As of now, “a total of 35 airlines have expressed their willingness to operate flights,” according to Ranatunga.
Speaking at a press conference held to mark the reopening of the country to all international travellers, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Chairperson Kimarli Fernando stated that Sri Lanka has reopened two of its airports, which are the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA), for international passengers.
Sri Lanka reopened its borders for tourism after about 10 months. The country’s tourism came to a standstill after the closure of the BIA in March, following the local outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.
Nevertheless, following the lifting of the seven-week lockdown imposed by the Government to control the local spread of the virus, domestic tourism began to pick up, bringing the occupancy rates of hotels to 20% until the recent “second wave” of the virus, which began on 4 October with the detection of the Minuwangoda cluster.
Furthermore, according to Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) Acting Marketing Director and Director of Public Relations Madubhani Perera, a total of 1,700 tourists were recorded during the period from 25 December 2020 to 24 January 2021, along with a group of German travellers.
In the statement, Perera said: “In December (2020) up to 24 January 2021, there were about 1,700 tourists that came into the country under the pilot project. But with regard to tourists who came with our second programme with the reopening of airports under the guidelines, only 60 tourists arrived from 21 to 24 January 2021.”
Perera further noted: “The pilot project handled by Udayanga Weeratunga, the former Ambassador (to Russia), is the one that initiated this programme and brought down these people to Sri Lanka.”
In the meantime, Sri Lanka is also preparing its global tourism promotion campaign, which is expected to kick off this year. The long-awaited global advertising campaign for Sri Lanka Tourism was set to be launched in September last year, but faced delays due to Covid-19.
The campaign has been in the pipeline for five to seven years under two governments, and has been desperately awaited by the industry, particularly following the Easter Sunday attacks, and more recently, the coronavirus outbreak.