- PM suggests reduction or re-tweaking following industry concerns
- Tourism Secretary says Minister will brainstorm with industry afresh next week before taking final decision
By Charumini de Silva
The proposed $ 100 fee for tourist visas from 1 August is to come under review following concerns expressed by the industry.
The move follows discussions Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa had with several travel and tourism industry representatives on Wednesday (10 June).
During the meeting, issues faced by the tourism sector, visa fees for foreigners, facilities for local travellers, steps to guide foreigners when reopening the country for tourism, and funds to boost the tourism sector came up for discussion. The meeting was hot on the heels of the Cabinet, on Tuesday (9 June) approving new relief measures for the tourism industry, which has suffered most due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last week Sri Lanka Tourism said a $ 100 fee will be imposed for visas for all tourists to cover the cost of PCR tests and additional healthy safety measures post-COVID-19.
Having listened to industry concerns and agreed with sentiments expressed, the Prime Minister at the meeting recommended that the visa fee must be reduced to $ 35, same as previously. Representatives from Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators (SLAITO), Sri Lanka Association of Professional Conference, Exhibition and Event Organisers (SLAPCEO), and Board of Airlines Representatives (BAR) were present along with Secretary to the Prime Minister Gamini Senerath and Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando.
Fernando told the meeting the rationale for the $ 100 fee. However, the Prime Minister had said the visa fee can be kept unchanged at $ 35 and shown separately, and the balance or a lower amount can be charged for PCR tests and related health safety measures.
When contacted, the Tourism and Aviation Services Ministry Secretary told the Daily FT that Minister Prasanna Ranatunga will have a fresh brainstorm with the industry before taking a final decision.
“We will be having a discussion with the Minister on Monday to take a final decision on the visa fee. The Prime Minister did suggest that the visa fee should be attractive for tourists,” Hettiarachchi added.
Yesterday the Daily FT reported concerns over visas expressed by the Colombo City Tourist Hotels Association (CCTHA). Its President, M. Shanthikumar, said luring tourists post-COVID-19 will be a challenge, hence authorities must ensure the additional or higher cost doesn’t deter tourists from considering Sri Lanka for their next holiday.
“In Europe, the cost of PCR testing is EUR 245 per person. This is required for them to leave the country as a tourist. If we add our visa fee of $ 100 (which is about EUR 85), each tourist will have to then pay a larger amount. This cost becomes double for a couple on holiday,” Shanthikumar said.
“We must try to strike a fair balance with our competition in the region, who will also try to lure the same tourists,” the CCTHA President emphasised, adding visa fees must be reasonable and affordable.
The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka (THASL) President Sanath Ukwatte told the Daily FT earlier in the week that post-COVID-19 fee-free-visa for six months was the ideal scenario.
However, he acknowledged that with new health protocols in operation, particularly a series of PCR tests where the Government has to incur additional costs, fee-free-visa may not be practical.
Ukwatte said international studies have shown that waiving of visas or attractive visa fees can boost visitors to a destination. “For example, visa waivers have resulted in a 10% increase of visitors to a destination and hassle-free granting of visas for tour groups has also encouraged more visitors to a destination. In our case, it could be used to attract large groups of travellers, especially MICE travellers from close regional countries,” he said.
“We could also consider issuing visas free-of-charge for a minimum of five-day bookings to places like the East Coast, where we need to encourage more visitors. Nevertheless, I understand the Government does not wish to encourage high tourism numbers initially and they will ease all restrictions as and when things improve,” the THASL Chief stressed.
Sri Lanka Tourism Chief Fernando said that the fee-free-visa scheme applicable for one year from the 2019 Easter Sunday terror attacks saw a Rs. 6 billion revenue loss for the Government for six months.