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Govt. resumes ETA for fully vaccinated travellers

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

  • Industry hails move; renews hope for busy winter season

  • THASL says situation better than expected

  • SLAITO hopeful Govt. will consider resumption of visa-on-arrival too

  • Airlines receive increased forward bookings from Eastern and Central Europe

In a fresh move to kick start tourism revival, the Government has resumed Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) for fully-vaccinated international travellers with immediate effect. ETA, which is issued by the Immigration and Emigration Department, was initially limited to 30 days from the date of arrival but can be extended up to six months. However, the non-vaccinated must submit forms A and B to get ETA, irrespective of the purpose of the visit. The move was hailed by the tourism industry stakeholders who are in “high hopes” for the upcoming winter season, after missing two years of business following the Easter Sunday attacks in 2019 and the COVID pandemic last year. The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) welcomed the decision, noting that eased entry rules will make Sri Lanka more attractive to international travellers and contribute towards a revival of the crisis-stricken tourism industry. “We have already got a lot of forward bookings for most of our member hotels countrywide,” THASL President Sanath Ukwatte told the Daily FT. “Overall, it is better than we expected,” he added. Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) also hailed the decision, stating that the move will help to easily facilitate the much-needed tourists to revive the industry. “We hope the Government will soon consider resuming the visa-on-arrival facility too,” they said. SLAITO also confirmed that airlines have reported major increases in the passenger loads to Sri Lanka, where the majority are from Eastern and Central Europe. Both THASL and SLAITO said they were looking forward to a year of relative normalcy even though the pandemic will remain at a subdued level. Tourist arrivals in August sharply increased by 107% to 5,040 from July. The increase was largely influenced by the relaxed travel restrictions by authorities, particularly for fully vaccinated travellers and permitting international tourists to enter the country via the Indian route. Arrivals in the first eight months were 24,377, a welcome development since the reopening of borders on 21 January, but down by 95% from the corresponding period of last year. Sri Lanka received 7,728 tourists from Central and Eastern Europe in the first eight months, supported by top airlines, which include Qatar Airways, Emirates, Turkish Airlines, and Etihad Airways, apart from the national carrier SriLankan Airlines. The Government last week announced eased entry rules by exempting on-arrival PCR for fully vaccinated travellers who receive a negative result on a PCR conducted within 72 hours of departure from 1 October. However, those not vaccinated will be required to undergo a 14-day hotel or home quarantine. These regulations will apply to both Sri Lankans and foreigners. For the last 18 months, Sri Lanka had observed strict quarantine measures for travellers and a series of lockdowns to control the COVID-19 pandemic. These measures had been extremely hard-hitting for all tourism industry stakeholders, including nearly three million dependents due to the twin crises of the Easter Sunday Attacks and COVID-19. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was of the view that the tourism industry must gradually be opened up with lesser restrictions for international travellers along with the aggressive vaccination drive, as it was a key foreign exchange earning sector for the economy. Sri Lanka lost around $ 10 billion in foreign exchange earnings, which generate $ 4.5 billion annually, due to the pandemic since last year.

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