Sri Lanka hoteliers yesterday expressed serious concern over government moves to charge for visas from foreigners visiting the country, except those from Singapore and the Maldives.“One of the reasons why we attract a large number of visitors to Sri Lanka is because of the easy access to the country. That is why we urge the government to defer this move until 2012,” Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President Anura Lokuhetti told the Sunday Times last night.
He said it was encouraging to note that the Government was taking a keen interest in promoting the tourism sector, but this was not the time for such a move.
A top hotelier, who is involved in promoting Sri Lanka tourism abroad, described the move as “frightening” for the hospitality industry.
The reactions came after the government on Friday decided to charge a visa fee on visitors from 78 countries, including tourists from Britain, France, Germany, India and the US and cancel the on-arrival visas facility.
The new measures are part of a new on-line visa scheme that will come into effect shortly, Immigration and Emigration Controller Chunananda Perera said. He said a standard fee would soon be announced.
“At present there is no visa requirement for these countries. Their citizens who arrive in Colombo have their passports endorsed free of charge for a limited period,” Mr. Perera said.
The 78 countries are those which impose visa requirements on Sri Lankans traveling to those countries. These include Japan, Australia, Sweden, Russia, Germany, China, Pakistan, India and other European Union member states.
The only exception will be visitors from Singapore and the Maldives. This is because the two countries extend the same courtesy to Sri Lankans travelling to those countries.Details of the new procedures were finalized at a meeting senior officials of the Department of Immigration and Emigration had with President Mahinda Rajapaksa at Temple Trees on Friday.
Under the new system, visitors could collect an entry visa to Sri Lanka for a fee via the internet.
Mr. Perera said this system, while reducing time, travel and paper work would also bring in additional revenue to the country. Blacklisted persons would also be identified, he said.
“All one has to do is log on to the Sri Lanka Immigration Web site -- www.immigration.gov.lk -- and reach the visa application section to be filled with the requested routine information such as name, sex, country, city, purpose of visit etc,” Mr. Perera added.
Acknowledgement of an application would be done in seconds and the approval for a visa would not take more than a single day. There would be several options for the system of electronic payment, he said
“This information will be fed into the master computer room at the airport and all that the visitor will have to do is to hand over the passport to the immigration official who will in turn swipe it on the machine and the relevant details of that particular individual will appear on the screen,” he said.
Mr. Perera said the processing of the visa would be done by the Immigration Intelligence Unit that would be based in a special operation room handled by officials from the Immigration and police.
He said discussions would be held with representatives of the travel industry, foreign missions and the Tourist Board to streamline the new procedure.