Sri Lanka has announced a policy to issue free tourist visas to travellers from India and six other countries, effective until March 31, 2024. The policy is a pilot project to rebuild the debt-trapped island nation’s tourism sector, which has been hit hard by the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings and the ongoing economic crisis.
Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said in a statement that the policy would be implemented with immediate effect. Tourists from India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand will be able to obtain visas when visiting Sri Lanka, without a fee.
India is Sri Lanka’s top inbound tourism market
India is traditionally Sri Lanka’s top inbound tourism market, accounting for 26 per cent of the total arrivals in September 2021. China is the second largest group, followed by Russia and Japan. Sri Lanka hopes to attract more tourists from these countries by offering free visas and promoting its natural and cultural attractions.
Sri Lanka has also relaxed some of its COVID-19 travel restrictions, such as reducing the mandatory quarantine period from 14 days to seven days for fully vaccinated travellers. However, travellers still need to present a negative PCR test result before departure and upon arrival, and follow the health guidelines issued by the authorities.
Sri Lanka faces political unrest and economic turmoil
The free visa policy comes at a time when Sri Lanka is facing political unrest and economic turmoil. The country is struggling to repay its foreign debt, which amounts to over 100 per cent of its GDP. The country has also experienced a severe shortage of essential items like food, medicine, cooking gas and other fuel, toilet paper and even matches, due to import restrictions and currency depreciation.
Protesters have been demanding President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s resignation, accusing him of mismanaging the economy and violating human rights. The president has rejected the calls for his resignation, saying that he is working hard to overcome the challenges and restore stability.