By:Staff WriterColombo (LNW): In a bid to boost tourism Israel and Sri Lanka have agreed to launch direct flights soon, a top Minister confirmed.
The move follows successful discussions between the Embassy of Israel and the Tourism Ministry following the reopening of borders recently. The resumption of the direct flights are being implemented on the instructions of Tourism Minister Harin Fernando.
Flights between Israel and Sri Lanka are expected to attract around 2,000 and 5,000 Israeli tourists to Sri Lanka during the May to September travel season.
“At present we are in discussion with Israel to commence direct flights in the immediate future. We are also in discussions with few other countries to resume their direct flights to Sri Lanka,” the Tourism Minister said.
Prior to the COVID outbreak, around 35 airlines operated direct flights to Sri Lanka. However, post-COVID only Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad, Turkish Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Singapore Airlines, China Eastern, Ukraine Airlines, Air Astana and Oman Air have resumed flights to Sri Lanka.
Noting that countries are focusing on reviving the tourism industry by following health guidelines along with vaccination programs, Ranatunga said that Sri Lanka too is taking steps to resume flights as usual, focusing on achieving its tourism goals whilst adhering to the health protocols underlined by the health authorities.
The Cabinet of Ministers green-lighted to operate direct flights for Israeli Airline — Arkia, subject to conditions.
The airline will have to follow security protocol standards similar to that of Dubai and Bangkok when establishing its offices in Sri Lanka.
“Generally, the airline operates with two armed guards onboard and due to this fact the flight was not permitted to operate into Sri Lanka citing security concerns,” Tourism Minister Harin Fernando said.
He said Foreign Affairs Ministry should inform Israeli authorities that the authorities of the security personnel on board the flight are limited to security affairs inside the aircraft.
Despite the long overdue, Fernando was hopeful of attracting large numbers from Tel Aviv this year.
“Israeli tourists are high spenders and their arrival to Sri Lanka has been on the rise this year,” he added.
As per Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) data, Israel ranks 12 tourist source markets for Sri Lanka year-to-date with 2% or 8,034 arrivals.
The proposal to this effect submitted by Tourism Minister Fernando was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers at its meeting on Monday.