Tourism to lose out with US$ 50 ETA charge - TAASL

Wednesday, 12 October 2011 03:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Cheranka Mendis

The Cabinet-approved online visa system which will come into effect from January 2012 may hinder the arrivals from the country’s main tourism markets with the high levy of Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) that will be set on all inbound tourists.

With India and UK being Sri Lanka’s prime tourist markets bringing in 120,530 and 79,022 respectively within the first nine months of this year, the EPA charge of US$ 50 will stall the rising numbers from next year, the Travel Agents Association of Sri Lanka (TAASL) said.

Tourists from Maldives and Singapore are exempted from the charge as the countries are allowed visa on arrival.

Association President S. Paramanathan told the Daily FT that the imposition of the charge would discourage tourists, especially those from India, since the majority is considered low budget travellers.

The high ETA would also result in the Indian High Commission raising the visa charge from Sri Lankans travelling to India as well, he said.

“Currently some 100,000 Indians on average travel to Sri Lanka on a monthly basis. From Sri Lanka some 39,600 are said to be travelling to India per month. This is estimated by the figures we have received from the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka, which says that on a daily basis the Commission approves 1,800 visas,” Paramanathan said.

According to present regulations, all Indians are charged US$ 3 as visa charges. From 2012, Indians will have to pay and additional US$ 50 as ETA charges, paying a total of US$ 53.

“India’s policy is that the visa fee be reciprocal. As at now for single entry visa, the charge is Rs. 774, however with the ETA being charged from Indians, the country will expect a visa charge equivalent to US$ 50, which might come close to Rs. 5,507.”

He stated that the change would leave Sri Lanka losing a large base of exchange as well. “Also note that those who are travelling to and from India, especially the Lankans travelling to India, are those in the mid or low income category.”

Most of the organised trips to India are to visit Dabadiwa and the majority participating are senior citizens. With a high fee charged, these trips will come to a temporary halt.

Paramanathan also stated that with competitive markets such as Thailand and Malaysia offering lower travelling charges, the country might lose tourists rather than gain them. With the Government looking at hosting 2.5 million tourists by 2016, the ETA charge could very well work to our disadvantage and discourage travels to the country, he said.

“The ETA is very good,” he said, “but the country needs to restructure the payment system.”

UK tourists, known to be high spenders, will find alternative markets to travel to given the cost. UK tour operators have already expressed concerns over the charge given that the sector is already affected by air passenger duty.

“It is too high a price to charge just like that. The increase should have been a gradual one,” Paramanathan noted.

He also stated that Sri Lanka would be charging a separate processing fee on top of the ETA charges, which raises the total amount payable by those coming into the country.

“The ETA fee of US$ 50 for tourists, US$ 60 for business travellers and US$ 25 for transit passengers is the same across all countries. However, a visa fee which differs from country to country will also be charged.”

The value of the visa fees range between US$ 3 (for India) and the highest US$ 200 (for Tanzania.) Czechoslovakia, Singapore, Jamaica and Chile are the only countries that do not require a visa fee, he said. The information was given out at an online-visa launching programme held late last month, he said.

Colombo City Hotels Association President M. Shanthikumar told the Daily FT that even though no formal complaint had been made or bookings cancelled for next year, the ETA charge would affect large groups or families travelling to Sri Lanka.

“US$ 50 is not a big amount for one traveller. However if it’s a family travelling in, paying US$ 200 for a visit seems a bit too much. This might be a problem,” Shanthikumar said. “This fee is also a bit too high for low-budget Indians.”