New tourist destinations identified to reach target - Ranatunga | Sunday Observer

New tourist destinations identified to reach target - Ranatunga

29 November, 2020

Minister of Tourism Prasanna Ranatunga said if we successfully control the second wave of Covid-19 and open the country to tourists, it would help uplift the tourism sector within six months. If we don’t face any natural calamity next year, we will certainly reach our targets by end 2021, he said.

Budget 2021 has allocated funds to identify new tourist destinations. We have identified over 3,000 destinations following proposals by Provincial Councils and Local Government institutions, the Minister told the Sunday Observer, yesterday.

A committee appointed for this purpose would get a report from each provincial level authority to develop the destinations identified in those areas. Thereby we hope to increase the number of days the tourists visit those areas after the Covid-19 pandemic returns to normalcy, the Minister said.

Minister Ranatunga said, “We hope to develop the Dambulla and Polonnaruwa areas as tourist zones and increase the number of days that tourists spend in those areas.”

The Minister said some unfortunate incidents were reported during the past, where tourists were harassed. Therefore, for the first time in history, the President has appointed a DIG for Tourism.

“We have launched a program to categorise all hotels in the country due to the Covid-19 pandemic and issue a certificate to each hotel to help build confidence among tourists who visit those hotels.”

The Minister said funds have been allocated to train those engaged in the hotel sector and to provide them local and foreign employment. Minister Ranatunga said the relief package given to those engaged in tourism ventures affected by the first wave of Covid-19 will continue to be provided. Over 3,900 identified persons will be given Rs.15,000 and Rs 20,000 based on their categories under this program. The Ministry will also formulate a program to create alternative income avenues for those in the tourism sector and discuss with banks to provide them loans at concessionary rates.

Earlier, we made a proposal to the Sri Lanka Tourism Advisory Committee to consider opening the country to foreign travellers under two options which include tourists undergoing a mandatory 14-day quarantine period on arrival here or travelling under a strict travel bubble.

We hope to take the final decision in this regard after discussions with Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi. Asked whether there is a decision to reopen the Bandaranaike International Airport, the Minister said the airport is already open to bring Sri Lankan repatriates to the country, but not open to tourists yet. The airport will open to tourists after we formulate a comprehensive program with the approval of the health authorities, he said.