Sri Lanka Offers Free Visas to Indians to Revive Tourism

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The move is aimed at reviving the country’s fledgling tourism industry and also extends to citizens from six other countries – Russia, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan.

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry on Tuesday announced Indians will get free visas to the nation as part of a pilot programme which will extend till March 31, 2024.

The move is aimed at reviving the country’s fledgling tourism industry and also extends to citizens from six other countries – Russia, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan.

“Cabinet approves issuing of free visas to India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand with immediate effect as a pilot project till 31 March,” said Sri Lankan foreign minister Ali Sabry on Tuesday. Tourists from these seven countries will be able to obtain visas without any fee to Sri Lanka.

A statement detailing the cabinet’s decisions said the move was made to generate a target of five million arrivals by 2026.

India has traditionally been Sri Lanka’s top inbound tourism market, followed by China. As per latest data from the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, India is the largest source for tourists with 2,00,310 arrivals so far this year, followed by Russia with 1,32,300.

In September 2023, India topped with over 30,000 visitors, making up for 26 per cent arrivals, followed by China at around 8,000 arrivals.

Sri Lanka saw its tourism numbers take a dive in the wake of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings. This was followed by the Covid pandemic in 2020 and a severe financial crisis last year which saw mass protests and shortages of essentials such as fuel. In June 2022, then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said in parliament that the economy had collapsed, leaving it unable to pay for essentials.

As a top priority to revive tourism in Sri Lanka and and boost its debt-ridden economy, Wickremesinghe – now the country’s President – had recently proposed making the area a “border-less tourism” region – on the lines of Schengen area – to tap the huge potential offered by the seven-member grouping members.

The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) is a regional grouping that comprises India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan. Prior to the pandemic, tourism was the third-largest source of foreign exchange inflows to Sri Lanka, accounting for about five per cent of the country’s GDP.

The industry has seen a turnaround in 2023, with Sri Lanka clocking a million arrivals till September for the first time since 2019.

It also earned $1.3 billion from tourism in the first eight months of 2023, up from $833 million during the same period last year.

Source: Indian Express