Sri Lanka says it has "opened its doors to the world once again" after welcoming its first contingent of international tourists at the weekend under the country’s strict new Covid protocols – but has stressed it won’t yet be making any exemptions for vaccinated travellers.
The visit from a German wellness tourism delegation marked the official reopening of the country’s main international airport, Bandaranaike, in capital Colombo to international tourist arrivals.
It follows a month-long pilot project with Ukraine which ended on Sunday (25 January) and saw nearly 2,000 tourists travel to Sri Lanka under the new protocols.
Sri Lanka is expected to open up to another key market, Russia, next month. Travel from the UK, though, will remain suspended owing to the UK’s ongoing Covid epidemic.
Kimarli Fernando, chair of Sri Lanka Tourism, said every effort had been taken to ensure visits are "safe, secure and serene", with the protocols having been signed off by the country’s health ministry.
There is no minimum stay, and Sri Lanka will offer a "quarantine-free" visitor experience allowing guests to enjoy all the facilities at their hotels, such as pools, spas and gyms.
However, travellers must stay at a Level 1 "safe and secure" certified hotel, or hotels, during the first 14 days of their stay.
"This ensures the creation of a bio-bubble for the international visitors assuring the safety of the local communities, employees of the industry and the visitors to the industry," said Sri Lanka Tourism.
"The respective hotels and accommodation providers, along with the travel agents and tour operators, will be entrusted to ensure visitors don’t break the bubble of safety."
A full list of qualifying hotels is available from srilanka.travel/helloagain, along with details of the country’s Covid safety protocols, certified tourist sites and attractions, as well as health forms and declarations.
Prospective visitors will have to provide proof of a confirmed hotel booking, pre-purchased PCR tests covering the duration of their stay, and mandatory Covid-19 insurance to qualify for a tourist visa, which will in future be managed via the Visit Sri Lanka app.
They will also have to provide evidence of having testing negative for Covid up to a maximum of 96 hours prior to departure.
Guests will be tested on arrival at their hotel, and again after five to seven days. A third test will be required if a stay is due to exceed seven days. Pre-purchased tests will cost $40 (£30) each.
There will be a mandatory insurance requirement costing $12 (£9) valid for one month; this will cover any isolation requirement resulting from a positive test result, and various other expenses.
Sri Lanka is currently making no exemptions for people who have been vaccinated against Covid-19; anyone who has been vaccinated and is looking to travel to the country will have to abide by the same requirements.