COLOMBO - Sri Lanka's cabinet approved issuing free tourist visas to visitors from seven countries including China, India and Russia, a statement issued by the media ministry said on Tuesday, to boost tourism and help revive its crisis-hit economy.
Tourists from China, India, Russia, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia will be issued free visas till March 31, 2024 under a pilot programme, the statement detailing cabinet decisions said.
The scheme is part of attempts by Sri Lanka to boost tourism recovery and hit a target of five million arrivals by 2026, the statement added.
The country of 22 million people, famed for its beaches, ancient temples and aromatic tea, saw its tourism industry pummelled first by the COVID-19 pandemic and then by a severe financial crisis last year that saw mass scale protests and shortages of essentials such as fuel.
But the tourism industry is seeing a turnaround in 2023 with Sri Lanka clocking a million arrivals by September, for the first time since 2019. The island is expecting to close the year at 1.5 million arrivals.
India is the largest source of tourists with 200,310 arrivals, followed by Russia with 132,300, latest data from the Sri Lanka Development Authority showed.
Sri Lanka earned $1.3 billion from tourism in the first eight months of 2023, up from $833 million dollars during the same period last year, according to the central bank.
(Reporting by Uditha Jayasinghe; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)