Govt. mulls extending free-visa policy to Indian tourists beyond March: Harin

Saturday, 10 February 2024 01:03 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Tourism Minister Harin Fernando said that the Government is considering extending the visa-free status for India beyond March to continue attracting travellers from the neighbouring giant.

Speaking at the OTM 2024 session on ‘Is the world ready for the Indian traveller? - Tourism Boards Perspective’ on Thursday, he explained that India is Sri Lanka’s single biggest source market that helped its tourism industry bounce back after multiple challenges.

“India is our number one source market and tourists from India helped our country on its path of recovery from the recent crisis we faced,” Fernando said.

He said by offering visa exemption to Indian nationals, Sri Lanka aims to increase tourist arrivals, particularly among those who prefer spontaneous travel and find the visa application process cumbersome.

“We are working on extending the visa-free policy beyond March. We want to make Sri Lanka an easily accessible destination for Indians, who can just walk into our country for a hassle-free holiday,” Fernando added.

In November 2023, Sri Lanka launched a visa-free pilot project policy to be in effect till 31 March 2024 for India, Russia, China, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand. 

He said the waiver of the $ 20 visa fee is insignificant compared to the spending done by Indian travellers during their stay in the country.

The Minister also underscored the importance of streamlining the travel process to attract more tourists from India and encourage repeat visits, especially at a time when travellers have numerous destination options available to them.

“In the time of more options, we have to ease the travel process to encourage more tourists from India and repeat footfalls,” he stated.

In 2023, India retained its position as the single biggest market including 302,844 tourists or 21% of 1.48 million total arrivals. It maintains its position as the top tourist source market for Sri Lanka year-to-date (YTD) in 2024 with a cumulative total of 40,406 arrivals.

Sri Lanka aims to draw 2.3 million tourists and earn over $ 4 billion from tourism this year while setting its sights on increasing arrivals to 5 million and earning an impressive $ 21.6 billion by 2030.