Sri Lanka approves concessions for airlines to hasten tourism recovery

Sunrise over the Sri Lankan jungle

Sri Lanka has announced concessions including reduced ground handling charges and relaxed visa requirements for a six-month period to provide a fillip to its battered tourism industry.

Cabinet approval was granted on Sunday for reduced charges for ground handling, aviation fuel and embarkation levies for six months to facilitate tourism recovery after the Easter Sunday attacks. Sri Lanka has one of the highest ground handling charges in the region.

Sri Lanka hopes moves will help tourism sector grow; sunrise over the Sri Lankan jungle

Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority chairman Johanne Jayaratne told reporters this week that with a reduction in these levies, overall airline operations costs would drop to about 20 per cent to 25 per cent at the country’s two international airports, bringing it on par with other Asian airports.

“This has been an ongoing problem for the past 12 years, and these three components have to come down to encourage tourism to grow. From the response I’ve received in the past 24 hours (from Tuesday), the airlines have been very positive (about the concession). We expect to see a definite increase in flight frequencies,” he added.

At least 250 people died including 50 tourists in coordinated bombings blamed on Islamic extremists at three churches and three luxury hotels on April 21, triggering a sharp drop in tourist arrivals and airline frequencies amid security worries.

Arrivals plummeted 70 per cent year-on-year in May, and 57 per cent in June.

Welcoming the concessions, Emirates area manager for Sri Lanka and the Maldives Chandana de Silva said the airline is on track to a four flights a day frequency from this month after cancelling flights ad-hoc for about a month or two.

Emirates is Sri Lanka’s second largest operator after national carrier SriLankan Airlines.

The government is also reviving an earlier effort to offer visa-on-arrival facilities to citizens of 39 countries, now to be implemented from August 1. The implementation of visa-on-arrival, initially intended to be effect on May 1, was suspended after the April 21 crisis.

“Due to the Easter Sunday terror attacks, we had to temporarily suspend it until the country bounced back to normal. We are now reviving it,” said tourism minister John Amaratunga.

The countries included in the visa-on-arrival scheme are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, UK, USA, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Canada, Singapore, New Zealand, Malaysia, Thailand and Switzerland.

While 29 airlines were serving Sri Lanka offering 300 flights per week just before the attacks, the number of flights dropped to 239 flights per week after the incidents.

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