Sri Lanka waives visa fees

By XU WEIWEI in Hong Kong and ARUNAVA DAS in Kolkata, India | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-11-02 10:23

Tourists walk on the beach at sunset in Arugam Bay, Sri Lanka, on June 8. THILINA KALUTHOTAGE/GETTY IMAGES

Sri Lanka is set on the path of recovery by attracting more tourists, especially from Asia and Europe, after the authorities announced that visa-free entry will be issued to nationals from seven countries, said officials and industry insiders.

Currently, many Asian tourist destinations are vying with each other to revive their tourism industries, which had been battered by COVID-19, said Sumit Batabyal, director of the Kolkata-based Wandervogel Tours and Travels.

He said policy measures such as the visa-free entry “will certainly go a long way in bringing more revenue” for Sri Lanka, which is grappling with an “acute financial crisis”.

This year, its tourism industry aims to attract 2 million visitors, up from the previous target of 1.5 million.

Sri Lanka’s cabinet last week also approved a proposal to offer free visas for nationals from seven countries, according to Minister for Tourism and Lands Harin Fernando.

The plan, which will benefit tourists from India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand, is a pilot project that will end on March 31 next year, he said on X, formerly Twitter.

Priantha Fernando, chairman of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, said the nation had just exceeded 1.1 million tourist arrivals in the first 10 months of 2023.

For Europe, the traditional markets have been the United Kingdom, Germany and France.

Priantha Fernando said the visa-free exemption plan is expected to increase arrivals from the three major markets “by 12 to 15 percent”.

“What we are trying to do is to start to experiment … to see how best we can increase the numbers from those markets,” he said.

‘Great stimulus’

He expressed his wish to see more Chinese tourists. “With Sri Lanka being listed among the 20 countries for Chinese travel, we plan to take advantage and increase the operations of air services between the countries.”

Rajiv Mehra, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, or IATO, described the timely move as “fantastic”.

“The waiver of visa fees will certainly serve as a great stimulus for tourists from India to Sri Lanka,” he said.

Priantha Fernando said Sri Lanka has it all within 65,000 square kilometers — sea, sun and sand, nature, wildlife, heritage, culture, wellness, marine tourism and friendly people.

“Sri Lanka is also a great place for adventure lovers, not only from India but also from around the world,” said Mehra, who is also the director of New Delhi-headquartered Uday Tours& Travel.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

Arunava Das is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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