Covid & Tourist Visas to Sri Lanka
Till late October 2020, Sri Lanka prided itself in its covid-19 response with only 13 deaths and reducing numbers of covid cases. Restrictions in flights, imports and various other precautions were taken and the country was slowly progressing. Then came Brandix cluster and Sri Lanka’s whole success story came to a halt. Over 72m covid cases, over 1.6million covid deaths and millions across the world unemployed as a result of temporary closure of businesses and inability to commence international trade. Globalization comfort zone has received a severe blow. The focus of all countries has now shifted to national self-sustainability. Covid has dealt a blow to Sri Lanka’s tourist industry one of Sri Lanka’s main source of income and employment generator. Is Sri Lanka ready to open its island to tourism and the issue of tourist visa is a factor that authorities need to seriously take note of.
- Amidst a covid pandemic are their ‘tourists’ interested to visit Sri Lanka or are there foreigners wanting to ‘run away’ from their nations plagued with covid?
- Are the tourists that Sri Lanka wishes to attract coming from countries severely impacted from covid?
- What is the income generation we expect from a new arrival of tourists & what is their spending capacity when all nations are monetarily impacted by covid?
- If we are targeting the elite tourists – why are we offering 6months visas when this will result in a revenue loss to Sri Lanka. Giving immediate 6month visa for elite tourists needs to be reviewed and corrected.
- Is the tourism ministry and Immigration able to track whether tourists arriving for 6months returning to their nations after 6 months?
Illegal immigration & Asymptomatic covid carriers
Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s foreign minister N Q Dias placed military in the North to deal with illegal immigrants. This far-sighted thinking was negated by JR Jayawardena. With India suffering high covid casualties plus a mysterious illness in Andhra Pradesh how safe is it to even invite elite Indians as tourists to Sri Lanka when they may be asymptomatic carriers! Are we geared to handle such a situation? “India First” policy will certainly deal a blow to Sri Lanka. Will the money generated from influx of tourists be sufficient to deal with an exodus of covid cases across Sri Lanka? Can a flooding of foreign work force compensate for the loss of employment to our locals? What about demographic change? What if these foreigners refuse to be re-quarantined and pay for their quarantine expenses? Will this not have to be borne by Sri Lankan taxpayers? So are the tourists coming with a heavy insurance cover that deals with covid eventualities?
With restrictions in import of food etc – how will the government deal with demands for food etc of the tourists? When basic turmeric was not available to the locals, is it fair to be looking after foreigners before our own? What is the profit Sri Lanka actually generates from tourism or do private hotel owners generate the bigger share of the profits? If the State generates revenue only from visas – why are we issuing visas for 6months? Shouldn’t visa be given only for one month extendable after reapplying for a fresh visa. It is good for people to look at the visa fees even Sri Lankans have to pay to travel on tourist visa.
When Sri Lankans working overseas are yet to be repatriated how fair is it to be giving prominence to promoting tourist arrivals not considering to bring out own back first?
When authorities are still unable to ascertain the number of illegals living and working in Sri Lanka, how will they be able to track people staying on 6month visa? Why would any tourist want to live in a foreign country for 6months? This will end up nothing but an opportunity for tourists to work in Sri Lanka and take out their income back to their nation, which is an element happening even now – what is the benefit to the State?
It is true Sri Lanka must move on and move forward, but we have to also be realistic and practical and understand the limitations of our scope. Moreover, with no proper attention and timelines and targets placed on national themes to self-sustain us and providing support with priority, we should not be walking into more trouble by lack of foresight.
Shenali D Waduge