Sri Lanka is aiming to boost its tourism industry and is set to give free visas on arrival to citizens of 36 countries. The Sri Lankan government will offer the promotion starting May 1 to travelers from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Korea, The Independent reported.
The free-visa promotion will initially run for six months but is likely to continue if it helps in boosting tourism numbers. The move is aimed to attract tourists to the island nation during its lull Yala monsoon season which runs from May to August.
Sri Lanka's tourism has boomed over the last decade with over 2.1 million tourists having visited in 2017 as compared to 448,000 in 2009, according to the nation's Tourism Development Authority. The Sri Lankan government aims to double this figure by next year.
Before the new rules come into effect, tourists can only get a free "transit" visa if they pass through Sri Lanka and stay for no more than two days. "We will start granting a free visa period for six months for some selected countries during our off-peak period. In the next phase, we plan to set up a permanent system at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) to issue visas on arrival, as is the practice in many countries. This will be a major step forward in attracting more visitors this year," said Sri Lanka's minister of tourism development, John Amaratunga.
He further added that Sri Lanka hopes to extend the free visa scheme to Chinese tourists and citizens of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, and Pakistan.
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