Following 10 months of closure, Sri Lanka finally reopened its doors to international tourists again on 21 January, as full operations at the island nation’s two international airports also resumed to accommodate the commercial flights.
The reopening of the island nation's tourism sector to international visitors come with some caveats though.
Under this "safe and secure" bio bubble concept touted by Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA), inbound tourists have to book their accommodation at a designated Level 1 certified hotel, get a Covid-19 test 96 hours before departure, and pre-pay for PCR tests and a health insurance.
While tourists' choice of accommodation in the initial 14 days is limited to the list of approved hotels, they can freely move around within the properties, with no minimum stay required, and are also allowed access to pre-approved tourist spots across the country during this period.
"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. The respective hotels and accommodation providers along with the travel agents and tour operators will be entrusted to ensure that visitors don’t break the bubble of safety," according to a statement from Sri Lanka tourism.
Information about the Level 1 certified hotels, as well as tourist sites open to international visitors and tourism safety measures, is listed at the SLTDA’s HelloAgain website.
According to Chamindra Goonewardene, director of sales and marketing at Resplendant Ceylon, whose luxury resorts are among the designated Level 1 list, Sri Lanka's terms for tourists to enter the country is met with "good response" from overseas markets.
"PCR test has become a norm and the terms laid out for entry into Sri Lanka are not too restrictive," he told Travel Weekly Asia.
He is hopeful that the "initial trickle" of international tourists will grow once more overseas source markets get word about Sri Lanka's tourism reopening policy.
Sri Lanka's latest reopening move follows a pilot project in late December, which led to tourist arrivals from Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan in the island nation on charter flights as part of a travel bubble arrangement.
Some hotels in Sri Lanka are already seeing robust demand from domestic tourists who have taken to travelling inland and exploring more of the country post Covid.
Situated in the pristine bird sanctuary of Double Tree by Hilton, Double Tree by Hilton's general manager Krishantha Damunupola told Travel Asia Weekly that the hotel was nearly full booking at time of speaking.
Echoing similar observations of the domestic market, Resplendent Ceylon's Goonewardene added that higher-end Sri Lankans, including C-suite executives and their families, were exploring the country in greater depth during the country's border closure.
"That enabled us to built up a database of loyal local clients," he shared.
Additional reporting from Medha de Alwis