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Tourism industry revisits partially -implemented quarantine holidays

  • SLTDA says it had to take desperate measures to accommodate travellers

  • Industry opines initiative not practical given current conditions

  • SLAITO says facilities provided were quite expensive, claims Indian inbound traffic has come to a standstill

Partly owing to criticism and logistic issues, the tourism industry is revisiting the half-heartedly implemented ‘quarantine holidays’ for foreigners en route to other countries. This follows concerns about the alleged spreading of the Indian variant of COVID-19 via nationals from the giant neighbour reeling with the spike in the pandemic who could be using this scheme as well as the bilateral travel bubble arrangement as a means to flee from home. Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) mid-April announced a new set of guidelines for ‘quarantine holidays’ or those transiting, after which several travel agents promoted and facilitated the initiative. A group of 20 Indians was among the first who stayed in an Army-run Level-2 Safe and Secure quarantine centre. On 25 April, SLTDA issued a notice to Safe and Secure Hotels regarding international arrivals for the purpose of 14-day quarantine en route to other countries, noting that some countries accept quarantine in Sri Lanka as an entry requirement to their country where direct arrival from origin country was not permitted. The notice clearly mentioned that these bookings were strictly for Safe and Secure Level-2 hotels and were exclusive for quarantine purposes, where the guests would be confined to their rooms and would not be permitted to use common facilities at any stage. The guests also had to strictly adhere to insurance and PCR testing irrespective of being fully vaccinated. SLTDA Director General Dhammika Wijayasingha said it was difficult for them to distinguish the travellers. “Most of the travellers stayed for 14 days or more, whilst on an average it was 10.5 days. When the travel bubble was launched it was difficult for us to distinguish and we had to take desperate measures to allow those travellers in,” she added. In terms of the Indian travellers, she said SLTDA was informed of such a group at the last minute and they all had valid visas. “We could not refuse their entry to the country at that point and had to make a call. The Indian group of travellers was allowed to stay at Level-2 facilities run by the Army and they were kept separate from the rest of the people,” she said. Industry sources said that though promoted, the ‘quarantine holidays’ option was not practical and that the travel agents marketed these quarantine facilities before Sri Lanka was hit with the third wave of COVID-19. Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) President Thilak Weerasinghe confirmed to the Daily FT that there were a few members of his association who offered quarantine packages, but now the inflow of Indians had come to a standstill. “We had a few members promoting quarantine facilities via the travel bubble with India. However, the COVID-19 outbreak also took place at the same time and now there are hardly any travellers from India,” he added. He also explained that these quarantine packages were quite expensive and many Indians couldn’t afford them. According to him, the average half-board package was sold at around $ 200 per night. The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President Sanath Ukwatte said they were not informed of such an initiative, which was also not lobbied for by them. However, he said that they would abide by the decision of the authorities if relevant ministries, the COVID Task-Force and authorities had taken a collective decision. Considering the current COVID-19 spike, several bigwigs had made a suggestions to the higher authorities relevant for a border closure a border closure at least for a period of two weeks (incubation period), to give space for the health authorities to absorb the current shock, but the Government has not taken a decision on the matter as yet.

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