Sri Lanka reopens borders to international travelers

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

Sri Lankan Tourism Minister Prasana Ranatunga made the official announcement during a press conference on Thursday, assuring that she will reopen the country’s borders from January 21.

“The livelihood of about 3 million people depends on tourism in Sri Lanka,” Ranatonga told the media. It is our national responsibility to take into account 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”, which will give visitors a relative amount of freedom to travel within the country while still observing safety protocols.

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

This means that travelers coming only on a short trip will stay at their resort the entire time, while people planning longer stays will be able to move more freely within Sri Lanka once they complete two weeks of semi-quarantine.

Unlike places like Hong Kong and Australia, where people who are quarantined on arrival must stay in their hotel rooms for the duration, Sri Lanka’s regulations are a bit lax. Guests will be able to use facilities such as swimming pools, gyms, salons and restaurants.
Travelers can also leave the hotel during quarantine to go sightseeing, provided they do so carefully. About a dozen sites and attractions are open to foreign visitors, but with caveats.

The five-star Anantara Peace Haven 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 Sacred Tooth Relic) and the Royal Botanic Gardens, both in downtown Kandy, require visitors to come as part of an organized tour group or with an approved Sri Lankan guide.

They must travel in a private vehicle and not make any unauthorized side stops. Some locations will only allow tourists during specific time periods or on certain days of the week.

Currently, 55 hotels and resorts fall within the “Tier 1 Safe and Secure” guidelines. They are not allowed to accept any local guests or host any events while they are part of the lively bubble.

With more security comes additional fees.

In addition to paying for flights and accommodation, travelers will bear the cost of government-mandated health insurance in Sri Lanka ($12) and up to three in-country Covid tests ($40 each).

Everyone coming into the country must show evidence of a negative coronavirus test taken within 96 hours of travel and fill out an online health declaration form. Guests will be tested again at their own expense on the fifth and seventh days after arrival and those staying longer than seven days will have to take a third test the following week.

Once the two weeks are over and they test negative for the coronavirus, travelers can stay at their hotel or move to another approved hotel. Airbnbs, guest houses and other forms of accommodation are prohibited. It is not recommended to use public transportation.

All prospective travelers must apply for a visa online and download the Visit Sri Lanka application. The app will be used to track contacts as well as store information about test results and hotel reservations.
Sigiriya Castle is among the dozens of attractions in Sri Lanka that are open to foreign tourists.

Sigiriya Castle is among the dozens of attractions in Sri Lanka that are open to foreign tourists.

Alex Ogle/Af/Af/Getty Images

While almost every country can clearly show that its tourism revenue has been hit amid the coronavirus pandemic, Sri Lanka has experienced a particularly unlucky timing.

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

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