Sri Lanka plans to reopen its tourism sector soon allowing only small groups of visitors to begin with, a tourism official said.

A limited number of small groups from around the world would be allowed to visit shortly and stay in approved five-star hotels that have put strict safety measures in place.

He confirmed that tourists will be required to carry a COVID-19-free certificate issued either by their respective governments or a reputed agency, Sri Lanka's Tourism Ministry Secretary S. Hettiaarachchi said.

The European Union (EU) is to provide a grant of 4.9 million Euro to boost Sri Lanka’s tourism industry hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and calls on the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) to provide relevant proposals soon.

This was disclosed by EU Ambassador in Sri Lanka Denis Chaibi when he met Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga recently.

Europe is a key source market for Sri Lanka and the tourist traffic from Europe totalled 42,084 in March before the country was hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government is to boost the tourism industry by generating US$ 10 billion in foreign exchange and increasing the annual tourist arrivals to seven million by 2025, Minister Ranatunga said adding that every possible step will be taken to meet the desired target despite the challenges posed by COVID-19.

According to Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Chairperson Kimarli Fernando,  the grant utilisation criteria communicated to the Government of Sri Lanka by the EU included support to SMEs and wellness tourism i.e. Ayurveda and ‘Hela Wedakama’.

The EU has had an ongoing development programme for the wellness sector in Sri Lanka for several years.

Fernando said that Sri Lanka Tourism has agreed with the European Commission to include one-time cash handouts to small and medium hotels, upskilling employees in soft skills, sanitary standards, business management, programmes with SME/home stays to develop nature and community-based products .

These activities will be carried out through a small grant programme and product development, branding, marketing, certification of wellness resorts focusing on ayurveda and indigenous medicinal systems under the wellness sector.

Sri Lanka Tourism is working with the Health Ministry to finalise the regulations relating to Ayurveda and Hela Wedakama and capacity building.

Furthermore, a product development and promotional campaign for the same will be launched in the coming months.