COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka plans to reopen its tourism sector on Aug. 1 by allowing only small groups of visitors to begin with, a tourism official said on Sunday.
Kimali Fernando, chairperson of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, a government body, denied a report in the local Sunday Times that said the sector would re-open in mid-June.
A limited number of small groups from around the world would be allowed to visit from August and stay in approved five-star hotels that have put strict safety measures in place, Fernando told Reuters.
He confirmed that tourists will be required to carry a COVID-19-free certificate issued either by their governments or a reputed agency, as reported by the Sunday Times which quoted Sri Lanka’s Tourism Ministry Secretary S. Hettiaarachchi. Tourists would also need to wait on arrival at the airport for coronavirus testing.
Fernando also confirmed that individual travelers will still not be allowed to enter the country.
Sri Lanka reported another 20 cases of the virus on Saturday, taking the total number of cases so far to 1,613, including 10 deaths.
The country attracted around 2 million tourists last year and the sector contributes around 11% to the nation’s gross domestic product.
President Rajapaksa discussed the proposals at a meeting with representatives of the tourism industry this month, Fernando said.
The main tourist season typically begins in around November.
If the government approves the plan, Bandaranaike International Airport and Mattala International Airport, which have been closed under coronavirus restrictions, would partially reopen. Testing facilities would be set up at the airports and private hospitals are expected to provide assistance to tourists as part of the plans, Fernando said.
Popular sites such as the Yala national park, Udawalawe, Arugam Bay, Trincomalee and selected beach areas would be among those open for tourists, whose temperatures would be monitored daily, he added.
Reporting by Waruna Karunatilake in Colombo; Editing by Zeba Siddiqui and Susan Fenton