02/12/2024, 13.34
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Sri Lanka’s tourism sector on the rebound thanks to visa-free travel for Asian visitors

by Melani Manel Perera

In January, Sri Lanka reported highest arrivals since 2019 after it scrapped visas for Chinese, Russians, Japanese, and Indian visitors. The sector is crucial to for the country to recover from its current economic crisis, with the government seeking to attract 2.3 million tourists in 2024.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Like other countries, Sri Lanka is turning to visa-free travel to boost local tourism, a key sector if it wants to deal with its current economic crisis.

The Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) announced in fact that it is extending beyond March an exemption introduced in November that allows nationals of China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan to enter the country for up to 30 days without a visa.

Initially, the pilot program was supposed to apply only to India, but was eventually extended to the other countries with good results.

“In December, there was a marked increase in tourist arrivals from all countries under the pilot programme rose significantly,” Tourism Minister Harin Fernando said.

So far, 2024 is showing encouraging signs. In January, Sri Lanka welcomed 208,253 visitors, the highest figure in the last four years, up by 103.1 per cent over last year, but still 13 per cent lower than in 2018.

Building on the solid momentum achieved in 2023, when Sri Lanka welcomed nearly 1.5 million visitors and surpassed US$ 2 billion in earnings, the highest since 2019, the SLTDA has set an ambitious target of 2.3 million tourists and more than US$ 4 billion in revenues in 2024.

By extending the visa exemption beyond March, when Sri Lanka's peak season usually ends, the authorities hope to increase opportunities and attract last-minute travellers as well.

Some popular travel destinations such as Thailand, Malaysia, China, and Iran have similar programmes to support their tourism sectors, while other destinations such as Indonesia and Vietnam are expected to do the same, looking particularly at emerging outbound tourism markets like India.

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