Tourism sector hails online visa

By Sunimalee Dias

Sri Lanka’s tourism industry has lauded the launch of an electronic gateway enabling visitors to obtain visas online from any location in the world. This new system launched last Friday at the Galle Face Hotel by External Affairs Ministry Secretary Karunatilake Amunugama will run for a trial period of three months till December 31.

Immigration officials said visitors could apply for online visas during the trial period but payment of visa fees online would come into effect from January 1. The new guidelines for visitors cover visa fees, online visas via the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) system and transit visas. It eliminates the visa-on-arrival system for many nationals.

Immigration & Emigration Department Deputy General Manager Nihal Ranasinghe said the trial period was in compliance with a request from the Tourism industry to allow local travel agencies to familiarise themselves with the new system, and to create awareness among the public, prior to full implementation.

Sri Lanka Inbound Tour Operators President Nilmin Nanayakkara said that any impact on the industry was likely to be “minimal”, and believed that, if this should continue unchanged, it would hold well.
Tourist Hotels Association President Anura Lokuhetty called on the government to utilise the revenue earned from visa fees to promote Sri Lanka.

Travel Agents Association President S. Paramanadan described the new system as ‘fantastic and trouble-free’, but said there was a need to look into reciprocity in the application of visa fees with other countries.

There were others within thse leisure industry who were concerned that the added fees could slow down growth. “In a competitive market (when prices are the key selling points of Sri Lanka’s competing destinations), any increased cost becomes a factor, which would have to be overcome,” one travel trade official said.

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