‘Free visa-on-arrival, a fillip for tourism | Sunday Observer

‘Free visa-on-arrival, a fillip for tourism

The head table at the media briefing.
The head table at the media briefing.

The government has ensured the security of the country and the situation is fast returning to normalcy. This will help the tourism industry to revive speedily while supporting the country’s economic activities to spur growth, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

“Sri Lanka is on its way to normalcy. Measures have been taken to revive the tourism industry with attractive packages to tourists in promoting the destination. As tourism is one of the key income earners and employment generation avenues, we need to have a focus attention for its speedy recovery,” he said at the conference to announce launch of visa fee exception program at Temple Trees last week.

“All efforts are in place to revive the tourism industry and bring back the number of tourists we lost due to the Easter Sunday attack. The recovery steps in the post incident are evident as for May, June and July has recorded gradual increase in the arrivals with 37,000, 67,000 and 117,000 respectively. This is a good rate of recovery,” Chairman Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, Kishu Gomes said.

“Sri Lanka’s progress is better than the countries that suffered similar setbacks. We are targeting 1.9 to 2 million tourists this year. Last year, there were 2.3 million arrivals. We anticipate less than 30 percent drop in arrivals and US $ 800 million to $ 1 billion revenue loss,” he said.

An aggressive promotional campaign is underway with many activities, including fam tours. There are 10 such familiarisation tours from right markets to attract right quality of tourists. India is among the key target countries and focused promotional campaign is carried out in India with the airlines, hotels and tour operators. Appointing destination representing companies in current markets is another measure to promote the country in a consistent manner using the right mix.

There will be an outward advertising campaign reaching Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, UK, Austria and consumer fairs in Malaysia, Singapore, UEA, Australia together with Sri Lanka participating in 24 travel fairs worldwide, including UK, China, Poland, Turkey, India, Japan and Switzerland. There will be many international events such as International Baseball tournament and International surfing event in Arugambay.

“The next stage of destination promotion will be the PR and an advertising campaign will be launch ed shortly,” Gomes said.

With the implementation of free visa-on-arrival scheme for six months from August 1, Sri Lanka is providing convenient access to visitors from 48 countries while boosting tourism.

The 48 countries whose citizens are eligible for free-visa-on-arrival are: Austria; Australia; Belgium; Bulgaria; Canada; Cambodia; China; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; India; Indonesia; Iceland; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Japan; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malaysia; Malta; Netherlands; New Zealand; Norway; Philippines; Poland; Portugal; Romania; Russia; Singapore; South Korea; Slovak Republic; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; Thailand; the United Kingdom; and the United States of America. The Government expects a substantial increase in tourist arrivals through this move, though there will be a loss of revenue for the Department of Immigration and Emigration.

“We will review the initiative after six months. If it is not beneficial, we will suspend this program. This is just a trial,” Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Christian Religious Affairs John Amaratunga said.

This initiative will have a dip in revenue and estimated loss is Rs. 4.3 billion for the next six months. This would be on top of the revenue loss for the industry from the recent setback. The Government would have incurred a loss of Rs. 1.5 billion during the first three months post-Easter Sunday terror attacks due to the drastic drop in the number of tourist arrivals, Controller General Immigration and Emigration, Pasan Ratnayake said. He encouraged all tourists to submit applications online on the Departments official website www.eta.gov.lk for electronic travel authorisation (ETA), to avoid delays at the airport, while noting the airport will also have an on-arrival visa facility.

The Immigration and Emigration Department was revisiting application procedure and measures will be taken to introduce more simplified application forms soon, he said. Justifying the move which will result in revenue loss to the government, Chairman, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, Gomes said that increase in arrival numbers was just one aspect of the program and most importantly it sends out the message to the world that Sri Lanka is a tourism-friendly nation.

“Numbers need to come and that is the end game, but the other benefit is that going out to the rest of the world and saying we are a tourism-friendly country. I think that positive vibe will certainly help us achieve our desired goals,” he said.