In a bid to revive its tourism industry and attract visitors from key markets, Sri Lanka’s Cabinet has approved the issuance of free visas to several countries, including India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand. This pilot project, effective immediately until March 31, 2024, aims to boost tourism and stimulate economic recovery in the aftermath of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings and ongoing political turmoil. The move comes as Sri Lanka recognizes the importance of strengthening its relationship with India, one of its most significant foreign policy partners.
The decision to offer free visas to these countries marks a significant change in Sri Lanka’s approach to tourism. Historically, India has been the primary source of inbound tourism for the island nation. However, the Easter Sunday bombings led to a decline in tourist arrivals, causing a severe setback to the industry. With this new initiative, Sri Lanka hopes to attract more visitors from India and other key markets, such as China and Russia, which have shown a growing interest in exploring the country’s rich cultural heritage and natural beauty.
Cabinet approves issuing of free visas to India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia & Thailand with immediate effect as a pilot project till 31 March –
— M U M Ali Sabry (@alisabrypc) October 24, 2023
According to statistics from September, India led with over 30,000 arrivals, comprising 26% of the total, while Chinese tourists followed as the second-largest group with over 8,000 arrivals. By offering free visas, Sri Lanka aims to capitalize on these numbers and encourage even more tourists to choose the island as their preferred destination. This move is expected to have a positive impact on the tourism sector, generating revenue, creating job opportunities, and stimulating economic growth.
Sri Lanka has been grappling with severe economic challenges since gaining independence from Britain in 1948. The ongoing political turmoil and protests calling for President Rajapaksa’s resignation have further exacerbated the situation. The country has been facing critical shortages of basic necessities, including food, medicine, cooking gas, and other fuels. The provision of complimentary tourist visas to foreign travelers is a strategic step towards addressing these challenges by injecting much-needed foreign currency into the economy.
The decision to offer free visas also underscores Sri Lanka’s commitment to strengthening its relationships with key countries. Foreign Minister Ali Sabry emphasized the importance of the country’s relationship with India, highlighting it as one of the most critical aspects of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy. By extending this gesture to India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand, Sri Lanka aims to foster closer ties and enhance diplomatic cooperation with these nations.