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Sri Lanka to extend free-visa regime till April 30 in bid to increase tourist footfall

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga has confirmed that the government was in the process of drafting a Cabinet proposal to extend the free-visa regime till April 30, it was reported on Thursday.

“We have just begun to draft the proposal and within the next two weeks I hope to submit it to the Cabinet for approval,” the Minister told the Daily Financial Times on Wednesday.

As a means to recover the country’s tourism industry which suffered a major setback following the Easter Sunday attacks on April 21, 2019, Sri Lanka granted free visas to travelers from 49 countries, including India, for a period of six months from August 1.

With the period coming to an end this month, the Immigration and Emigration Department lobbied the government to suspend the visa scheme, noting that there will be a loss of revenue.

However, the tourism industry urged the continuation of the regime, as it has been helpful for a more complete recovery, whilst any loss of revenue to the government was insignificant considering the net $4.4 billion it brings in as foreign exchange earnings.

Following the bombings that targeted three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo and killed over 250 people, tourist arrivals slumped by 70.8 per cent to a record low of 37,802 in May 2019.

According to the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, 1.6 million tourists arrived from January to November, compared to the 2 million arrivals in the same period in 2018.