Chinese tourists wear facial masks as they pose for a photograph, after Sri Lanka confirmed the first case of coronavirus in the country, 28 January – Reuters
Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga yesterday said steps had already been taken to create awareness to reduce the coronavirus outbreak among tourism industry stakeholders. Accordingly, the Tourism and Health Ministries are working closely to combat the spread of the coronavirus within all tourist hotspots of the country.
“We had a meeting with industry stakeholders this week on what procedures they could follow to prevent the spread of the virus. We hope to educate hoteliers and lodge owners, tour guides, tourist taxi drivers and tourists,” the Minister told the Daily FT.
The Tourism Ministry has already notified the Health Ministry on the specifics of the Chinese tourist who was confirmed as the first case of the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Sri Lanka. The Minister has instructed authorities to provide all the necessary facilities to health authorities to inspect passengers arriving at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake.
China is among the top three sources for tourists for Sri Lanka, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, with 167,863 visitors, 9% of the total, holidaying in 2019. In December alone, Sri Lanka received 16,846 Chinese tourists.
The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President Sanath Ukwatte also confirmed that the authorities had taken appropriate action and meted out advice according to the guidelines outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The key is not to panic,” he stressed.
Ukwatte said some hotels in Colombo and the suburbs had now started screening tourists entering the country.
“We have taken necessary precautions and advised staff, especially with cleanliness, to display enhanced attention. Hotels have also been provided with essential gear to handle the situation,” he added.
The number of hotels registered with the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) is nearly 2,000, while unregistered hotels, guesthouses, tourism establishments and homestays number around 2,000. Over two million are directly and indirectly employed within the tourism industry.
Noting that there will be a short-term impact on travel patterns worldwide, he commended the Chinese Government for taking swift action to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
Ukwatte was optimistic that this global epidemic would soon be controlled.