New visa rules irk Sri Lanka tourism


Sri Lanka’s tourist industry wants the government to postpone a new rule to charge for visas, scrapping on-arrival visas, saying it could deter visitors whose numbers boomed after the end of a war, a report said.

‘New visa rules cause panic in hotel-tourism sector’, was how the Sunday Times newspaper headlined the story, saying visitors from 78 countries will be slapped with a visa fee with an online payment method to be introduced.
Sri Lanka hoteliers had expressed serious concern over government moves to charge for visas from foreigners visiting the country, except those from Singapore and the Maldives, which give Sri Lankans on-arrival visas, the paper said.

“One of the reasons why we attract a large number of visitors to Sri Lanka is because of the easy access to the country,” it quoted Anura Lokuhetti, president of the Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL), as saying.

“That is why we urge the government to defer this move until 2012.”

He said it was encouraging to note that the government was taking a keen interest in promoting the tourism sector, but this was not the time for such a move.

Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka rose sharply last year, topping 600,000, after the island’s 30-year ethnic war ended in May 2009.

A top hotelier, who is involved in promoting Sri Lanka tourism abroad, described the new visa move as “frightening” for the hospitality industry, the Sunday Times newspaper said.

The reactions came after the government on Friday decided to charge a visa fee on visitors from 78 countries, including tourists from Britain, France, Germany, India and the US and cancel the on-arrival visas facility.

The new measures are part of a new on-line visa scheme that will come into effect shortly, the newspaper quoted Immigration and Emigration Controller Chunananda Perera as saying. A standard fee would be announced soon.

Under the new system, visitors could collect an entry visa to Sri Lanka for a fee via the internet from the Sri Lanka Immigration Web site, which Perera said would reduce time, travel and paper work while also bringing in additional revenue to the country.

Approval for a visa would not take more than a single day.