Sri Lanka on Wednesday included India and China in the free visa on arrival scheme to revive the country’s tourism sector which witnessed a slump following the Easter Sunday bombings.
In April, Sri Lanka suspended its plans to grant visas on arrival to citizens of 39 countries after the devastating Easter suicide bombings that killed 258 people. Nine suicide bombers attacked three churches and as many luxury hotels on April 21, in the country’s worst terror attacks.
The ISIS terror group claimed the attacks, but the government blamed the local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jammath (NTJ) for the Easter Sunday bombings. Sri Lanka has re-launched the free visa on arrival scheme, which will be enforced from August 1, for the suspended 39 countries and has also expanded the service to tourists from India and China, Tourism and Christian Affairs Minister John Amaratunge.
Previously, India and China were not included in the free visa category. Plans had been made to exempt several European countries from visa fee, but the implementation of this process had been delayed due to the deadly attacks, Amaratunge said during a function held on Tuesday.
The scheme already allowed tourists from Thailand, the European Union, the UK, the US, Japan, Australia, Switzerland, Cambodia. Originally the scheme was to come into force on May 1 but the security fears after the jihadi bombings forced it to be put on hold.
Sri Lanka’s tourist arrivals declined 7.5 per cent in April 2019 compared to the same period last year, according to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority’s first monthly report since the terror attacks. The visas on arrival pilot programme were part of a larger initiative to increase tourist arrivals to the country during the six month off-season period from May to October.
The island nation received 7,40,600 foreign tourists in the first three months of 2019. Around 450,000 Indians visited Sri Lanka last year and the island nation was expecting the total Indian tourist arrivals to cross one million mark in 2019. The tourism industry expects the arrivals to fully recover in three to four months.
“The recovery is very good,” Kishu Gomes, chairman of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau said adding that, “In the last 5 – 10 days we have exceed 4,500 tourist arrivals a day on average.” There will be vigorous tourist promotion campaigns by the government in the immediate future, Gomes said. Tourism revenue makes up 5 per cent of the country’s GDP, figures have shown.
The bombings, which targeted three Christian churches and three Colombo hotels, killed over 250 people, including 44 foreigners, and injured over 500, including 37 foreigners. Tourism industry officials said there have seen 70 per cent cancellations of prior bookings after the attacks. The US, China, the UK, India and Australia were among the countries which issued travel warnings on Sri Lanka following the blasts carried out by local Islamist extremist group NTJ.