Free visa programme to be extended?

– Tourism Ministry and Immigration Dept. to hold discussions

The visa fee exemption facility or free visa on arrival programme launched on 1 August to promote tourism for a period of six months is most likely to be extended due to requests from the industry, The Sunday Morning Business learns.
The programme was to expire at the end of February as planned initially, but the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation is considering extending it further, as it would be favourable for the country.
“There is a good response for the free visa on arrival programme,” an official from the Ministry told The Sunday Morning Business.
Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business in October, then Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) Chairman Johanne Jayaratne noted that the visa fee exemption facility would be reviewed at the end of the year and either extended or discontinued based on its success.
Jayaratne added that following the review, the facility will be continued for another six months for countries that showed a hike in tourist arrivals since its launch. Accordingly, it was said that the programme will be discontinued for countries that didn’t show any improvement.
Now, the Ministry together with the Controller General of the Department of Immigration and Emigration are scheduled to have a meeting shortly where they will discuss matters pertaining to the extension and the countries for which they would continue the exemption.
According to SLTDA data, tourist arrivals into Sri Lanka were gradually recovering since June, following the Easter incidents, but dropped to 108,575 in September, the second month the free visa was in effect, compared to 143,587 in the previous month and 115,701 in July. The largest source market for tourists was India, followed by China and the UK.
Even though August arrivals recorded month-over-month growth, arrivals during the month were boosted mainly by Asian tourists as most of the western markets recorded lower arrivals compared to a month prior. Furthermore, the overall figure was boosted by the visitors who came down for the Bohra Global Convention.
Sri Lanka’s top two traditional tourism-generating countries – India and China – saw month-over-month growth during August, as they brought in 32,115 and 26,558 tourists, respectively, compared to 18,309 and 6,926 tourist arrivals in July, respectively.
However, the UK, Germany, France, Australia, Canada, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, the traditional western countries generally in and around the top 10 tourism-generating markets of Sri Lanka, reported lower numbers of arrivals in August, compared to July this year.
Arrivals in September were 1,376,312, mainly contributed by 28,917 Indian tourists, 9,231 Chinese tourists, 8,322 British tourists, and 6,895 Australian tourists.
Arrivals from top two tourism markets India and China witnessed a drop during this month compared to a month ago, resulting in negative month-over-month growth in overall tourist arrivals.
However, October arrivals witnessed moderate month-over-month growth compared to a month prior, with 118,743 arrivals during the month. India, China, the UK, and Germany were among the top tourism markets during this month with 33,217, 11,683, 8,763, and 7,820 tourists, respectively.
The total number of international tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka during November 2019 was 176,984. In comparison to November last year, when the arrivals were 195,582, there was a decline of 9.5%. Last month, the largest source market for tourists was India followed by Germany and China.
The visa fee exemption facility, which was launched on 1 August to increase arrivals and revive the terror-hit tourism industry for a period of six months, allows nationals from 48 selected countries to enter Sri Lanka with a free visa valid up to a month on their arrival.
The programme was initially scheduled to be implemented in April but was suspended following the Easter attacks due to security reasons.
Tourists from 48 countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the UK, the US, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand, and Switzerland, benefit from this programme.
The previous Government said that it aims to bring down 2. 1 million tourists this year through this programme, in spite of the impact of the Easter attacks on the tourism industry. As of 30 November 2019, 1,672,039 tourists had visited Sri Lanka, a decline of 19.6% over last year when compared to the 2,080,627 tourists who visited the country during the first 11 months of 2018.