Sri Lanka’s cabinet approved a plan to issue free visas to visitors from seven key tourism markets until March 2024.
The move aims to revive the crisis-battered economy by stimulating travel demand.
Free Visas for China, India, Russia and More
On Tuesday, Sri Lanka announced it will grant free tourist visas to travelers from China, India, Russia, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia under a new pilot program.
The selected countries represent Sri Lanka’s top sources of tourist arrivals. Waiving visa fees is intended to boost visits from these vital markets.
Seeks to Hit Target of 5 Million Tourist Arrivals
The free visa scheme is part of Sri Lanka’s strategy to rebuild its tourism industry after COVID-19 and the 2022 economic crisis.
Specifically, the country aims to attract 5 million tourist arrivals annually by 2026. Incentives like free visas will help accelerate the tourism sector’s recovery.
Industry Rebounding After Crisis Hammered Travel
A once-booming sector, tourism was devastated after economic turmoil led to shortages and mass protests in 2022. But arrivals are rebounding in 2023.
Sri Lanka recorded 1 million visitors by September, its fastest pace since pre-pandemic 2019. If momentum continues, it could hit 1.5 million by year’s end.
India and Russia Currently Top Sources
India has been the largest source of arrivals so far in 2023, accounting for over 200,000 visitors. Russia follows at around 132,000 tourists.
Waiving visa fees can help Sri Lanka draw more travelers from these top markets to fill hotels and attractions.
$1.3 Billion Tourism Revenue So Far in 2023
Per the central bank, Sri Lanka has already earned $1.3 billion from tourism in the first eight months of 2023. That exceeds the $833 million generated in the same 2021 period.
Easing entry for key demographics will help tourism revenues continue climbing back toward pre-crisis levels.
Global Destinations Offer Incentives to Attract Tourists
Sri Lanka isn’t alone in leveraging promotions and travel deals to reboot its tourism industry after COVID-19 disruptions.
Thailand is also considering permanent visa-free entry for Chinese travelers along with waivers for visitors from India and Taiwan.
In summary, Sri Lanka’s free tourist visa scheme targets key markets to accelerate the tourism sector’s recovery after crisis setbacks. The country hopes easing entry will attract millions of visitors annually.