Sri Lanka reopens borders to international travelers

(CNN) — The island nation of Sri Lanka is now open to tourists from all countries.

Sri Lanka Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga made the official announcement during a press conference on Thursday, confirming that they would reopen the country’s borders from January 21. Both of the country’s international airports reopened on the same day.

“The livelihoods of around 3 million people in Sri Lanka depend on tourism,” Ranatunga told media. “It is our national responsibility to address the needs of our citizens who depend on this industry.”

As part of efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19, Sri Lanka has created a ‘bio-bubble’, giving visitors relative freedom to travel within the country while adhering to safety protocols.

Although there is no minimum time a visitor must be in the country, anyone arriving from abroad must stay in a government-approved hotel or resort for up to two weeks after arrival.

This means that travelers who are only coming for a short trip will stay at their resort for the whole time, while those planning longer stays can move around Sri Lanka more freely after completing their two-week semi-quarantine.

Unlike places like Hong Kong and Australia, where people quarantined on arrival have to stay in their hotel rooms for the entire duration, regulations in Sri Lanka are a bit more relaxed. Guests have free reign on the property, allowing them to use facilities such as pools, gyms, salons, and restaurants.
Travelers can leave the hotel for sightseeing even during quarantine as long as they do so carefully. About a dozen tourist attractions and attractions are open to foreign visitors, but with restrictions.
The five-star Anantara Peace Haven Hotel in Tangalle is on the list of approved hotels.

The five-star Anantara Peace Haven Hotel in Tangalle is on the list of approved hotels.

Anantara Peace Haven Tangalle

For example, as part of the ‘bio-bubble’, attractions such as Sri Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth) and the Royal Botanic Gardens, both in downtown Kandy, require visitors to come as part of an organized tour group or with a licensed Sri Lankan guide.

You must travel in a private vehicle and not make unauthorized stops. Some places only allow tourists during certain time slots or on certain days of the week.

Currently, 55 hotels and resorts fall under the Safe and Secure Level One guidelines. They are not allowed to host local guests or host events while being part of the bio-bubble.

With added security comes additional fees.

In addition to the cost of flights and accommodation, travelers are responsible for the cost of Sri Lankan government-approved health insurance ($12) and up to three in-country Covid tests ($40 each).

Anyone entering the country must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test taken within 96 hours of travel and fill out an online health declaration form. Guests will be retested at their own expense on the fifth and seventh day after arrival, and those staying longer than seven days will be required to take a third test the following week.

After the two weeks and a negative coronavirus test, travelers can stay in their hotel or switch to another of the approved hotels. Airbnbs, guesthouses and other accommodations are taboo. The use of public transport is not recommended.

All prospective travelers are required to apply for a visa online and download the Visit Sri Lanka app. The app is used for contact tracing, as well as storing information about test results and hotel bookings.
Sigiriya Fortress is one of about a dozen Sri Lankan attractions open to foreign tourists.

Sigiriya Fortress is one of about a dozen Sri Lankan attractions open to foreign tourists.

ALEX OGLE/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

While almost every country has a proven track record of showing that its tourism revenues have taken a hit amid the coronavirus pandemic, Sri Lanka has suffered at a particularly unfortunate moment.

After the first outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020, most countries in Asia closed their borders to tourism and few have reopened since then. Sri Lanka will be one of two destinations in the open borders region alongside the Maldives.

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