Sri Lanka Prepares to Welcome Back Tourists

Al Jazeera recently interviewed tourism industry leaders from three different countries on its Inside Story program. Officials from Greece, England, and Sri Lanka spoke about the measures that their countries are taking to make their countries safe for tourists and locals as they open up after quarantine.

As I am currently living in Colombo, I was curious what Kimarli Fernando, Head of Sri Lanka’s National Tourism Authority, had to say about the issue. Her main part of the interview comes in at 5:37, 12:12, and 19:02.

Not sure why they wrote “COVID-29” – Video typo?

A few take-aways from the discussion about the future of tourism for Sri Lanka:

  • There will be a certification process for both tourists and hotels to ensure that they are COVID-free.
  • Sri Lanka is considering a 5-year, multiple-entry visa to encourage longer stays.
  • Sri Lanka expects to begin welcoming international travelers in July.

Sri Lanka has had nine COVID-19-related deaths and slightly less than 1,000 cases. An island-wide curfew began on 20 March and is still in effect (nearly two months later) for some parts of the island, including Colombo.

I’ll admit that I am anxious about the return of international tourism. But hopefully, with the right protocols in place, it can slowly resume.

What will it take for you to travel again?

What will it take to make you feel safe to have international tourists return to your country?

The Way We’re All Feeling Now

I’ve passed the point where working and schooling from home and staying inside indefinitely is a novelty. There is this malaise and dread and, yes, fear of what is going to come next, even though there are bits of normalcy peeking through.

I couldn’t put into words exactly how I was feeling lately. “Terrible,” I told a friend. But that didn’t cover everything.

“I keep grasping for a future that looks like the past and it’s just a mirage,” I told her.

Later in the day, I came across two tweets that echoed my mood.

From Helen Rosner:

“Today in therapy we talked about how (for those of us currently healthy and taking isolation seriously) right now we live in an infinite present. No future plans, no anticipation of travel or shows or events or celebrations. It’s an endless today, never tomorrow.”

Manu Saadia said something similar:

“It’s finally beginning to sink in that the pandemic is not a three months inconvenience but a generational upheaval.”

What an absolute bizarre timeline we are living in. I’m trying to write more to get into a rhythm that isn’t just constant doomscrolling. At the same time, it is somewhat fascinating that nearly everyone in the world can probably relate to these two writers’ words.

An empty Galle Road, Colombo, during lockdown

I Should Be Writing This Down

I should be writing this down. All of this.

This is what I tell myself daily or weekly, whenever I am doing something incredible or even mundane. I should be writing down what flowers that are in bloom, the sounds of the birds, how I feel, and what I am thinking.

I should be writing down what is happening in the world around me. Right now, the world is at a standstill because of coronavirus. And I should be writing about what it has been like here in Sri Lanka.

When I started writing this, Sri Lanka had 136 active cases out of a total of 180. Six people had died. (Now, a few days later, I’ve returned to this post with different numbers: 165, 233, 7.)

The kids have already been out of school and I have been teleworking for more than a month. Sri Lanka’s nationwide curfew began on 20 March and I have barely been out of the house since then. Today is April 15th.

I have been tracking the coronavirus situation in Italy obsessively since the end of February. So I felt okay, even relieved, when Sri Lanka began shutting down. Most cases were coming from people traveling here, either Sri Lankans returning home from Europe and the Middle East or Europeans trying to “outrun” the virus. After watching what was happening in Italy, I knew it was the right decision for this country to quarantine for a while.

Like everywhere else, it has been a challenge here. We are under a curfew so our lockdown situation is quite different than the ones I am reading about in the U.S. and Italy.

No one is allowed on the streets unless for essential reasons, like delivery of groceries, street cleanup, trash collection, etc. I can walk my dog down the street but I can’t go to the park or go hiking. We can’t go to the grocery store or order take-out food but we can order groceries and a few restaurant foods. Taco Bell, Domino’s, and Pizza Hut are delivering in some areas; Uber Eats and local delivery service PickMe are operating but not serving all areas.

Anyone who wants a curfew pass must present themselves at a police station and apply. We have been lucky because we are diplomats and have freedom of movement by virtue of our status. But we are complying with the ordinance, staying at home, and generously tipping delivery drivers and trash men.

We have also been fortunate to be a part of the embassy community, as everyone is coming together to discuss supplies — who delivers what, for example — and plan virtual activities like trivia nights and talent shows. Any time vegetable and egg trucks pass through neighborhoods, a buzz starts up on the WhatsApp group. It reminds me of years ago (2011?) when food trucks used Twitter to announce their whereabouts.

An empty Galle Road, Colombo, during lockdown
An empty Galle Road, Colombo, during lockdown

This curfew will overlap with the one-year anniversary of the Sri Lanka Easter bombings on 21 April. That’s another thing I should have written about when it was happening. But it was just so depressing and destabilizing. We were at church on that Sunday, albeit one that went untargeted. And we were ordered to evacuate a little over a week later. So there was little time for me to process what was happening and what to write while packing suitcases for an undetermined amount of time.

So, the curfew in Sri Lanka has been helpful in several ways. Sri Lanka has a population the size of the state of Florida but so far has seven deaths compared to Florida’s 571. Of course, there are many factors that differentiate these two spits of land. But I can’t help but think that Florida’s numbers would be lower if they had been able to enact a stricter stay-at-home order like the one we have here. I’m also thankful that the curfew will take place during the anniversary of the attacks so no one feels obligated to pack the churches in a fearless act of defiance.

I have grown weary of being at home and of waking up confused to what day it is. I doubt that I will come out of this having written the great coronavirus novel. But I am glad that I am finally taking the time to write this.

Now, I hope to start filling this blog full of travel photos — as was my original mission! And, if you have read this far, you can help me. What should I write about next?