By Charumini de Silva
Tourist arrivals post-reopening of borders have crossed the 2,500 mark with officials confirming thousands more are due with air connectivity being enhanced. Within three weeks since airports were opened on 21 January for foreign visitors and commercial flights, there have been 2,673 tourists, Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando told the Daily FT. Yesterday 235 tourists were the latest to arrive from Kazakhstan along with 179 from Ukraine at the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA). “Since the opening of the borders for international travellers we have had nearly 3,000 arrivals, with several thousand more having got approval via Immigration Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) to visit the country. This is just the start, and we hope the interest will build up gradually,” Fernando said. She also said the potential of tourism is endorsed by Middle Eastern airlines which have committed to increasing their weekly flights, something she commended along with other carriers also restarting operations. Leading carriers from the Middle East, including global giant Emirates, the national carrier of the Kingdom of Bahrain Gulf Air, and budget airline in Dubai Flydubai, this week announced that they will be stepping up flights to Colombo following the opening of borders and resumption of international tourism in Sri Lanka. Starting next week Emirates will deploy six flights per week from the current four, whilst Gulf Air and Flydubai will resume services with two flights per week. “The reopening of the borders for international travellers and commercial flights have definitely given new hope to the tourism industry – the most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The revival of the tourism industry will be of great help to the economy overall,” she added. Tourist arrivals since reopening have been largely from Eastern Europe with a pilot project with Ukraine a key factor. Fernando highlighted that there is great scope for Ayurveda and wellness tourism, as inquiries are pouring in, particularly from key markets such as Germany, France and Italy. The private sector hailed the “small yet encouraging” first set of arrivals as a breakthrough. They expressed confidence that with an improved COVID situation there will be more tourists, thereby contributing once again to the socio-economic development of the country.