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Tourism Stakeholders Urge Sri Lankan President to Address Highest Visa Costs in Asia

Tourism stakeholders in Sri Lanka have raised concerns over the country’s soaring visa fees, now deemed the highest in Asia, posing a significant deterrent to tourists compared to neighboring destinations such as Thailand and Vietnam, which offer free visas or nominal charges. In a letter addressed to President Ranil Wickremesinghe, they implored intervention to reinstate a competitive and user-friendly visa process, akin to the previous Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system, via a government-operated website. This streamlined approach, they argued, is vital for facilitating seamless acquisition of the requisite 30-day, single-entry visa for tourists.

Highlighting the pivotal role of tourism in Sri Lanka’s economic resurgence, with projections aiming for 2.3 to 2.5 million tourist arrivals in 2024, stakeholders expressed apprehension that the recent visa modifications could jeopardize this target. The abrupt fee hike and convoluted application process, they contended, might dissuade potential visitors, potentially resulting in a decline in arrivals below 2 million. The statement underscored concerns regarding certain governmental actions hindering the progress of the tourism sector despite concerted efforts by the President, tourism authorities, and industry stakeholders.

Drawing attention to recent developments, stakeholders pointed out the suspension of the Government ETA website, effective April 16, 2024, with visa processing exclusively shifted to a privately operated website. Despite assurances from the Minister that a single-entry tourist visa would be available for USD 50 by May 01, 2024, stakeholders lamented the persisting complexity and lack of user-friendliness in the application process, along with the likelihood of additional charges.

Moreover, stakeholders emphasized a substantial surge in visa costs, with the new private website solely offering a more expensive six-month multiple-entry visa at USD 100.77, inclusive of service and convenience fees, instead of the previously available single-entry tourist visa. This escalation in fees, they noted, presents a considerable barrier to tourism, particularly for families planning travel during peak seasons in July and August, requiring a significant expenditure of USD 400 for a family of four merely for entry into the country.

Accompanying the letter are reports detailing visa cost comparisons and the anticipated repercussions of the altered process and fee structure on Sri Lanka’s tourism industry. Additionally, stakeholders appended an email from the new visa website urging a tourist to reschedule their holiday due to system glitches, further highlighting the challenges posed by the revised visa regime.

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