City Hoteliers, Inbound Tour Operators join cry against visa rule

Wednesday, 5 January 2011 00:07 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Sunimalee Dias

The country’s city hoteliers as well as inbound tour operators yesterday joined the growing chorus against the new rule requiring tourists visiting Sri Lanka to have a visa.

“The new rule is very dangerous for the tourism industry and will have serious repercussions on our plans to woo more tourists in 2011,” City Hotels Association Chairman M. Shanthikumar told the Daily FT.

He said that apart from holiday seekers, Sri Lanka also draws substantial business travel and the new rule would negatively impact the Government’s plans to convert Sri Lanka into a business hub in the region.

Shantikumar also said that in view of the recession many Europeans were resorting to budget holidays and imposing an additional cost by way of a visa fee, and the hassle of obtaining one would put off many prospective tourists from Sri Lanka’s traditional Western markets.

“Having the visa rule during the Visit Sri Lanka Year is counter-productive,” the city hotels chief said adding that Sri Lanka must learn lessons from other countries which have adopted more tourist friendly measures when declaring such dedicated years.

According to Shantikumar, city hotels which enjoyed an occupancy rate of 80% in December were experiencing only 65% in the first week of January.

Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO) President Nilmin Nanayakkara also found fault with the timing of the visa rule.

“Though it appears the move is based on national interest it is not the best time to implement it. The Government should consider deferring it by six to eight months as we don’t think it is prudent or healthy to introduce it overnight,” he pointed out.

SLAITO along with Tourist Hotels Association (THASL) is planning to make written submissions to Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa this week as part of lobbying for a deferment or exploring other options to raise revenue.

“Our representations are not aimed at objecting to the Government’s moves but to ensure that the impact of the actions would be minimal on the industry’s progress,” Nanayakkara said.

 “What we should do is to facilitate people with easy accessibility and offer more incentives to be here,” he said adding that “for a client to decide there should be something attractive on offer.”

He also pointed out that there was a need to ensure that the online visa system was active and whether the country was ready and geared to cater to the number of tourists wanting to visit the country and accessible in the different languages.

SLAITO also expressed concern over the sudden increase in fees for tourists at selected sites including the Botanical Gardens.

He said that while the industry was not against such increases it was important to inform in advance prior to pushing up prices. Nanayakkara said the product value is put together eight months ahead of arrival and in this respect such overnight increases could have a big impact. The negative impact will be felt most on the Destination Management Companies.