Tourism was one of the fastest growing sectors in Asia and is the third largest foreign exchange earner in Sri Lanka. When the Covid-19 pandemic surfaced in 2020, tourism was the one to face the immediate impact and one of the industries to be strained the most.
Sri Lanka first went into lockdown including the airport closure in March 2020 to control the spread of the virus. The tourist arrivals globally fell abruptly for the first time in the history of tourism and came to a complete halt for a period of 10 months till 21st January 2021.
This comes at a situation when the Sri Lankan Tourism industry was suffering from the negative impacts of the Easter attack. Thus from 2019 onwards the industry has not been able to function in full operation, resulting in two Bear winter seasons in 2019 and 2020. Thus the need to recover fast, steady, yet in a prudent manner.
Strategic Bio-Bubble for recovery
Sri Lanka was one of the very few to open up for Tourism during this time under the protection of a ‘Tourism Bio Bubble’ operation put in place by Sri Lanka Tourism which has been recognized and acknowledged globally as an innovative concept to resume tourism in the new normal operations.
Strategic Bio-Bubble was created in 2020 when there were no or limited vaccinations.
Tourism Bio-Bubble included 3 pillars of ‘Safe and Secure Hotels’, ‘Tourism Operational Guidelines’ and ‘Safety Guidelines for visitors’. It is this Bio-Bubble concept that won Sri Lanka many accolades to include ‘Safe Travel Stamp from the World Travel & Tourism Council’, ‘Top Country’ for Winter Travel for 2020 by ‘USA Today’, ‘Best place to visit in 2020’ by CNN, ‘Top Destination to Travel’ by Condé Nast Traveller in 2020, Sri Lanka listed as one of the best holiday destinations for 2020 by The Times, UK and Wanderlust Travel Awards 2020 in London where Sri Lanka wins ‘Back on the Map’ award.
While Other Asian tourist destinations remained closed for tourists till recently, Sri Lanka commenced the revival of the tourism industry through the creation of the Tourism Bio Bubble. Sri Lanka is also one of the first in the Asian region to prepare and issue a detailed COVID-19 Health Protocol for the Industry.
Pandemic led volatility
Despite this readiness by the local Tourism industry, the world suffered several travel bans, suspension of flights and lockdowns due to pandemic waves that surfaced time to time further restricting global travel.
After a period of 3 plus months of Tourism re-opening, Sri Lanka again went into another lockdown period. With the rise of Covid-19 cases reported daily, Sri Lanka was listed on the red list in UK and most EU countries, USA had travel advisories imposed. This was a blow to the recovery of tourism industry.
Slow yet steady recovery
However, given the strong vaccination drive by the government and the prudent health controls in place, Sri Lanka was able to curtail the spread and to reopen for Tourism once again on 1st June 2021. Revisions to bio-bubble operations were made to adapt to the developments in both local and global vaccination programs and global best practices.
However Sri Lanka Tourism, under the guidance of the Ministry of Health has been adopting a prudent operational mechanism for the industry with relaxations offered on health recommendations. With the successful government vaccination program and constant communication of progress to educate overseas missions locally, Sri Lanka was able to be gradually removed from red lists published by UK.
Furthermore, travel restrictions were also eased prudently allowing fully vaccinated visitors to travel with less restriction from 1st October 2021. As echoed by the industry ever since the easing of the health restrictions we have seen a gradual increase in the bookings and flights which is an indication of a gradual pick up and the much needed economic and foreign exchange boost.
Coming together for revival
Tourism Industry operators and stakeholders must ensure accountability with strict adherence to the protocols and mechanisms laid down to ensure the recovery of the industry. This is the time Industry should come together, work together and ensure Sri Lanka will have a steady yet continued recovery both for the sake of the country, communities and the industry at large.