By Cheranka Mendis
TOURIST industry stakeholders are urging for a postponement of the online visa system scheduled to start in September.
Tourist Hotels’ Association President Anura Lokuhetty told the Daily FT that after a number of discussions members are concerned that the introduction of the online visa system would affect the booming travel trade of the country negatively.
Lokuhetty stated that travel operators have already accepted reservations for the coming winter season on a visa on arrival basis and that the implementation of an online system might cause confusion within the system. “We are only requesting them to delay the online visa system till after May for leisure travellers and initiate it with business travellers only,” Lokuhetty said. This would convince tour operators that all can go well, hassle free during the upcoming season, he said.
Sri Lanka now on the competing line with countries such as Malaysia which welcomes 22 million tourists per year — Thailand (approximately 14 million) and Singapore with 11 million arrivals in 2010 must create free access to play the game safe and to attract more tourists to the country. A delay in online visa scheme for the leisure sector tourists would give the Association members the time to adequately inform their tour operators of the change. “The number of tourists from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore have grown because they did not have any limitation in creating access to the destinations,” he said, “especially with the year being titled as the ‘Visit Sri Lanka year’ it is important to open the country for tourists.”
The association is not asking for the system to be completely cancelled but merely to delay the implementation in respect of the leisure segment of travellers, he pointed out. A delay would also enable the regulators to monitor the system operation and fill up shortfalls before they open it up for the mass tourists. “We are not against the government initiative. We are only concerned about the impact of the initiative.”
Sri Lanka is also no longer a cheap destination, he reminded, “Operators would think twice before sending tourists to Sri Lanka or other countries of similar cost structure.” He stated that even though Sri Lanka has a perfect pricing at the moment, there is a need to market and create consumer awareness about the destination. However revamping the visa scheme swiftly might not be the best option available for the country, he said.