Sri Lanka offers free visa on arrival with an aim to attract 3 million tourists in 2019

Published on : Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Sri Lanka Tourism is offering free visa on arrival to 36 nations from May to October to boost the off season tourism. This South Asian island nation is also rolling out free visa to UK visitors also from 1 May 2019.



This visa free scheme will initially run for six months, but could continue if the move significantly boosts international tourist numbers. A 30-day double-entry visa for British tourists currently costs £27.



Before the new rules come into play, visitors can only get a free “transit” visa if they pass through Sri Lanka and stay for no more than two days.



In addition to the UK, citizens from the 27 other EU countries, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea will also be eligible for a free visa upon arrival at Sri Lanka’s Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.



Sri Lanka has already enjoyed a tourism boost over the last decade, with visitor numbers jumping from 448,000 in 2009 to more than 2.1 million in 2017. The Sri Lankan government aims to double this figure by next year. However, there is an annual silence from May to August during Yala monsoon season – the hope is that the introduction of free visas may help to combat this.



Sri Lanka’s minister of tourism development, John Amaratunga said that they will start granting a free visa period for six months from 1 May 2019 for some selected countries during our off-peak period. In the next phase of this programme, the tourism board plan to set up a permanent system at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) to issue visas on arrival, as is the practice in many countries.



John Amaratunga also added that he hoped to extend the free visa scheme to Chinese tourists and citizens of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan.



On March 19, the Sri Lankan cabinet approval was granted for the project for six months ending October 31. Sri Lanka’s off-peak season runs from April to June and September to October (even November in some years).



In 2018, April attracted 93 percent of the average monthly arrivals, which fell to 67 percent in May and 75 percent in June. September brought in 77 percent of average monthly arrivals, October 79 percent and 95 percent in November. Sri Lanka had run an off-peak promotions campaign named ‘Island Escapes’ from September to November 2018 as a pilot project, giving price cuts on flights, hotels and tours in a partnership between the state and private firms.



A tourism official said around 8,000 tourists had taken advantage of the promotion in 2018. Amaratunga said this campaign will be continued during the free visa period. The Sri Lankan government is driving tourism to become Sri Lanka’s leading foreign exchange earner (currently third behind worker remittances and apparel exports), in order to bridge a current account gap in the balance of payments.



The government is now aiming for 5 billion US dollars in earnings for 2019 from 3 million arrivals.


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