Sri Lanka extends free tourist visa service until April 30: Minister

COLOMBO Sri Lanka On Thursday he extended the free visa plan on arrival until April 30 for citizens of 48 countries, including India, said the tourism minister, while the country tries to revive the tourism sector that was affected by the Easter Sunday bombings.

In April, Sri Lanka suspended its plans to grant visa-on-arrival to citizens of 39 countries after the devastating bombings that killed 258 people.

In July, the island nation added more countries, including India and China after relaunching the free visa plan upon arrival, which was implemented as of August 1.

We have decided to expand this facility due to shareholder requests. A cabinet document will be presented for this purpose, Ranatunga said.

In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks, the $20 visa fee for South Asian travellers and $35 fee applicable to visitors from the rest of the world were waived off.

Tourism that contributes 5 percent to the island's GDP was hit hard after the local extremist group linked by ISIS National Thawheed Jammath (NTJ) carried out suicide attacks that killed more than 260 people in three hotels in Luxury and three churches on April 21.

Sri Lanka's tourism arrivals had received a boost by early 2019 with over 10 per cent increase in arrivals year on year. The Lonely planet had by then named Sri Lanka as a top tourist destination in the world.

However, after the Easter Sunday bombings, the industry suffered mass scale cancellations of prior bookings. In May last year the arrivals suffered over a 70 per cent slump.

Tourism industry officials said arrivals during 2019 were well below the target of 1.9 million arrivals.

Data from the first 11 months for 2019 showed that arrivals had decreased 1.67 million by almost 20 percent.

The bombings, which targeted three Catholic churches and three elegant hotels, killed more than 250 people, including 44 foreigners, and injured more than 500, including 37 foreigners. Tourism industry officials said there were 70 percent cancellations of previous reservations after the attacks.

The US, China, the UK, India and Australia were among the countries which issued travel warnings on Sri Lanka following the Easter Sunday blasts.