COLOMBO -The first of two charter flights from Ukraine carrying tourists from Russia is due to arrive in Sri Lanka on Monday (28), kick-starting the tourism industry which has been in the doldrums since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in March this year, leading to travel bans and airport closure.
Ukraine’s SkyUp Boeing 737-900 is scheduled to land at the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) at 1440 hours on Monday, carrying the first group of holidaymakers on Monday. This will be followed by a second flight, Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-900, on Tuesday (29), which is scheduled to land at the MRIA at 1215 hours.
An Aeroflot flight which was scheduled to arrive at the Bandaranaike International Airport on Sunday (27) was cancelled.
According to a tourist sector official, the Russian tourists are part of a pilot project run by authorities to study the feasibility of fully opening the country to tourism. The government had planned to bring in about 50,000 before a coronavirus surge started in September, the official said.
Early week, the Sri Lankan government announced the relaxation of regulations for inbound travel and said it was opening airports to commercial flights and charters from December 26. However, the decision was revised hours later, and all travel originating from the UK were halted and passengers who were transiting from the UK or had been to the UK in the last 14-days were banned entry, following the discovery of a new strain of the novel coronavirus in the UK.
Shehan Sumanasekara, Director Operations, Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) has said the Russian tourists arriving in the two flights would be assisted by Sri Lanka Tourism authorities from the time of their arrival until their departure.
He has said the travellers will come with negative PCR test taken 72-hour before departure and undergo a second test after arriving in the country. The second test will be carried out at the designated hotel where the visitors will be staying. They will also be monitored through an online application.
Sri Lanka’s tourism sector is one of the hardest hit from the novel coronavirus. In 2019, the country attracted 1.9 million travelers in the wake of the multiple Easter Sunday attacks targeting major hotels and churches.
Up to mid March 2020, Sri Lanka received around 500,000 visitors, after which the airports and borders were closed and the country went into lockdown.
Russia is one of the top ten source markets for Sri Lanka’s tourism with 86,832 Russian tourists having visited the island in 2019.
Particularly in December 2019, Russian Federation travellers were the third-highest visitors to the country.