Sri Lanka to withdraw VOA

SRI LANKA will withdraw the visa-on-arrival (VOA) facility currently extended to citizens of 79 countries, including India, starting September 30. An online visa application process, to be availed prior to departure, will replace the VOA.

The VOA will continue to be extended to countries that offer a reciprocal privilege to Sri Lankan nationals, like Singapore and the Maldives.

“We really hope the government will not introduce this scheme,” said Hiran Cooray, chairman of Jetwing and PATA. “If they do, we have to make it as hassle-free as possible, so that the impact is minimised.”

To promote tourism, Sri Lanka has been granting a 30-day VOA to Western tourists, as well as those from developed nations, since the 1970s. The scheme was extended to the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation nations in the mid-90s to tap the region’s potential.

Initially mooted in August last year, the VOA withdrawal was put on hold because of large-scale representations by the Sri Lankan tourism and hospitality industry, which feared a drop in tourist arrivals.

Chulananda Perera, Sri Lanka Immigration and Emigration controller-general, said the new online visa application system would be implemented in about 80 days. After submission of application and payment of fees, visitors would get their visas within one to three days.

Perera insisted that Sri Lanka’s tourism industry would not be affected by the new system, and that the switch would in fact make it easier for tourists.

Nagsri Prasad Sashidhar of Mumbai-based Mercury Travels was less optimistic. “ Sri Lanka was very attractive for us given the VOA facility. We would recommend it as a good option to tourists who were going to Maldives,” he said. “The withdrawal will cause numbers to fall and make the destination less appealing to our clients.”

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