Free on-arrival visas to woo tourists | Sunday Observer

Free on-arrival visas to woo tourists

SLTPB Chairman Kishu Gomes exchanges the agreement with TAT Deputy Governor Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya. Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga looks on.
SLTPB Chairman Kishu Gomes exchanges the agreement with TAT Deputy Governor Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya. Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga looks on.

The government will issue free on-arrival visas to Thai travellers to Sri Lanka, shortly, in a push to woo visitors from Thailand, Tourism Development, Wildlife and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunga told journalists at a media briefing in Colombo, when welcoming a Thai travel delegation to the country last week.

“The free on-arrival visa facility will be extended to other markets as well to boost the tourism industry after the Easter attacks which is making a dent on the industry,” the Minister said while urging Thai authorities to support Sri Lanka by reciprocating with Visas in the same manner.

The Minister at a media briefing last month, said that steps will be taken to grant visas on arrival free for multiple countries from May 1 to boost tourism during the lean period.

Around 9,300 Thai travellers visited Sri Lanka last year while nearly 50,000 Sri Lankans had visited Thailand during the same year. Thailand, a much liked travel destination within South East Asia, recorded 38 million visitors to the country last year. By contrast, Sri Lanka Tourism is struggling to optimistically lure in three million visitors to the country this year with a huge global marketing and Public Relations (PR) campaign at a questionably staggering cost, which may not be recouped in terms of tourist arrivals and income.

A top official of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau (SLTPB) said after a major setback to the travel industry of the country the number of visitors has picked up since June and is now recording around 2,000 visitors per day.

“We have statistics to prove that tourist arrivals are on the rise,” he said.

However, tour guides and industry personnel contest the Minister’s figures and say the number of visitors to the country per day, is actually below 1,000. “The country is now safe and there is no opportunity for a coordinated attack.

I am confident the tourism industry will regain its lost momentum and hit a US$ 10 billion revenue mark by around four to five years from now,” SLTPB Chairman Kishu Gomes said.

The Thai delegation comprised the Deputy Governor of Tourism Association of Thailand (TAT), Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya, tourism officials, Thai media personnel, travel bloggers and Thai tour operators.

The high profile tourism delegation from Thailand is in the country to lay the groundwork for tourism collaboration between the two countries. An MoU was signed between SLTPB and TAT to promote bilateral tourism between the two countries.

“We have launched an aggressive campaign to bring the industry back to what it was. The size of the global travel industry is US$ 8.8 trillion. All countries are competing for a share of this market, by coming up with new products. Singapore and Dubai did not inherit much, as we are blessed with so many natural resources and diversity,” Gomes said, adding that the SLTPB aims at going beyond recovery with mega events lined up in Colombo to attract travellers.

The Colombo International Baseball Tournament, the surfing tournament in Arugam Bay and a ‘Week with celebrities’ in Colombo are some of the major events scheduled for the year.

Deputy Governor, TAT, Chattan Kunjara Na Ayudhya said Thailand has maintained strong bonds with Sri Lanka and that it would extend its fullest support to help Sri Lanka to rebuild the tourism industry.

“In good and bad times we have been together. No one could live alone. Whatever knowledge we could share we would do to support Sri Lanka. TAT will try to send more Thai tourists to Sri Lanka,” he said, adding that the Thai-Sri Lanka collaboration is a good start to make things happen and convey to the rest of the world that Sri Lanka is open for business again. - LF