ECONOMYNEXT.com – Sri Lanka is planning to boost off-peak season arrivals by 20 percent in 2019 with the introduction of a free on-arrival visa program in May, a minister said.
“We will run this as a pilot project initially in order to increase arrivals during the off season,” Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga said in a statement.
“We estimate that this initiative will result in a 20 percent increase in arrivals,” he said. “Depending on its success in the initial period, we will decide whether to continue with it.” Amaratunga added that the travel and tourism industry stakeholders had welcomed the move as a step in the right direction.
Tourists from 39 countries will be elligible for the program.
The Department of Immigration and Emigration is in the process of making necessary arrangements to implement the visa on arrival program from May 1. The program was initially expected to start on April 1, but administrative processes had delayed implementation. On March 19, cabinet approval was granted for the project for six months ending October 31.
Sri Lanka’s off-peak season runs from April to June and September to October (even November in some years). In 2018, April attracted 93 percent of the average monthly arrivals, which fell to 67 percent in May and 75 percent in June.
September brought in 77 percent of average monthly arrivals, October 79 percent and 95 percent in November.
Sri Lanka had run an off-peak promotions campaign named ‘Island Escapes’ from September to November 2018 as a pilot project, giving price cuts on flights, hotels and tours in a partnership between the state and private firms.
This campaign too was a pilot project, expected to be repeated in 2019 if successful. An official said around 8,000 tourists had taken advantage of the promotion in 2018.
Amaratunga said this campaign will be continued during the free visa period.
The Sri Lankan government is driving tourism to become Sri Lanka’s leading foreign exchange earner (currently third behind worker remittances and apparel exports), in order to bridge a current account gap in the balance of payments.
Sri Lanka earned 4.4 billion US dollars in foreign exchange from tourism in 2018 from 2.3 million arrivals, up from 3.9 billion US dollars through 2.1 million visitors in 2017.
The government is now aiming for 5 billion US dollars in earnings for 2019 from 3 million arrivals.
The countries included in the visa on arrival programme are as follows:
- Czech Republic
- Slovak Republic
- United Kingdom
- United States of America
- South Korea
- New Zealand