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Sri Lanka Extends Visa-Free Entry for 7 Countries

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Sri Lanka has announced an extension of its visa-free entry initiative for visitors from 7 countries until April 30, 2024.

Citizens of India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand were first approved for visa-free entry by the Cabinet of Ministers in October 2023.

The program was initially due to last until March 31. However, these passport holders can continue to visit Sri Lanka for up to 30 days without a visa, at least until the end of April. 

Minister of Tourism Harin Fernando took to social media to share the news, explaining that a final decision on the long-term future of visa relaxations will be made in the upcoming weeks as the pilot project progresses.

Foreign visitors, including visa exempt travelers, still require a Tourist ETA to enter Sri Lanka. However, the ongoing relaxation of visa rules signals a strategic move for the country’s tourism sector.

Sri Lanka Extends Visa-Free Entry for 7 Countries

A Boost for Sri Lanka’s Economic Growth

The primary objective behind this recent easing of visa requirements is to enhance Sri Lanka’s appeal as a tourist destination.

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Tourism has developed the Strategic Action Plan for Tourism, a targeted campaign due to run from 2022 to 2025. This aims to restrengthen the country’s tourism economy following the impact of the pandemic on world travel.

In Sri Lanka’s burgeoning economy, tourism has been identified as the third largest and fastest growing source of foreign investment. It accounted for approximately USD $4.4 billion of the country’s GDP in 2018.

However, this promising growth was compromised during the pandemic due to restrictions on movement. Sri Lanka’s visitor numbers dropped, from almost 2 million tourists in 2019 to around 500,000 in 2020, and just short of 200,000 in 2021.

Thanks to a loosening of visa restrictions and a global return to travel normality, Sri Lankan officials have reported promising signs of recovery and increasing tourist arrivals in recent years.

The Ministry of Tourism have revealed that more than 1.4 million tourists visited Sri Lanka in 2023. This represents a significant milestone in the country’s post-pandemic recovery.

What’s more, Minister Fernando expressed optimism that the visa-exemption program: “is expected to increase tourism arrivals to 5 million over the coming years”.

Strengthening Ties With Indian Travelers

Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Tourism has made strategic selections of the nations included in the latest visa-exemption program. Russian travelers currently rank second in the list of top visitors, and almost 40% of tourists in 2022 came from Asian and Pacific countries, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority.

Amongst broader plans to boost visitor numbers, Sri Lanka’s tourist board has set its sights on specifically increasing traveler numbers from India, whose citizens make up the biggest source of tourist arrivals.

Sri Lanka’s rich cultural history and scenic landscapes are now at easy reach for Indian tourists, given the lack of visa formalities and short travel distance.

The number of direct flights from major Indian airports has increased post-pandemic. Travelers can now reach Sri Lanka in less than 2 hours by traveling from Bengaluru or Hyderabad airports.

Tourism Development Authority data shows that Indian visitors to Sri Lanka more than doubled between 2022 and 2023, from 123,004 to 302,844 travelers per year, respectively.

It’s hoped that the latest extension to visa-free travel for Indian passport holders will help to increase this number even further.

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