Holidaymakers looking for destinations where overtourism is not an issue and a warm welcome will be given would do well to look at Sri Lanka, whose cabinet has just passed a measure offering free tourist visas to visitors from seven countries, in a bid to encourage tourism and hit wider economic targets.
Visa Free Entry to Sri Lanka ✅— Numbers.lk (@numberslka) October 24, 2023
The #SriLanka 🇱🇰 Cabinet has approved visa-free entry for travelers from 7 key tourist-generating countries.
⭕️The policy is effective immediately and will run until March 31, 2024, as a pilot project.
🌍 Affected countries are:
Recovery but not enough
One million visitors went to Sri Lanka in 2023 to September, matching 2019’s figure. This brought in $1.3 billion in tourism revenue, up 56% on the same period the previous year, says the country’s central bank. Arrivals are anticipated to rise to 1.5 million by year end.
While this represents a recovery, it is not enough to hit 2023’s target of 2 million arrivals the South Asian island nation was aiming for, meaning they risk missing a more long-term 2026 goal of five million visitors.
Sri Lanka is in the midst of a debt and imports crisis that has seen widespread shortages and angry street demonstrations. With failing currency reserves, the country owes billions to China and India – debt that was restructured earlier this year, allowing the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to loan out $3bn (in addition to a $600m loan from the World Bank in 2022).
To accelerate growth, the government has opened up free visa access to tourists from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, and Thailand. The approach will be trialled until the end of March 2024.
By including India and Russia on the list, the cabinet could be said to be going for low-hanging fruit: India is already Sri Lanka’s “largest source of tourists with 200,310 arrivals” according to Reuters. Russia comes next with 132,300, according to Sri Lanka Development Authority numbers.
As a destination, tropical Sri Lanka offers year-round sunshine and around 1,600 km of idyllic Indian Ocean coastline. To put the country firmly back on visitors’ radar, earlier this year, the country took its tourist offer on the road with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, accompanied by a delegation including hotels, resorts, destination management companies, and event management companies.
Writing for Travel Tomorrow, the country’s Ambassador to the EU has extolled the “mountains, rivers, waterfalls, vegetation including paddy fields, coconut groves, tea estates, spice gardens, cascading waterfalls, and a riot of flowers and fruits” her homeland has to offer. Ranking its attractions, her top three slots are filled with beaches, biodiversity, and the Sri Lankan people’s harmonious and hospitable welcome.