Sri Lanka aggressively courts return of visitors, dangles incentives for airlines

Tourists visiting the Minneriya National Park in central Sri Lanka

Following the crippling effects of the Easter Sunday bombings on the tourism industry, Sri Lanka is rolling out aggressive efforts in tourism recovery by cutting ground handling charges, reducing fuel rates and lowering embarkation taxes at its main airport to attract more airlines and airline frequencies.

From August 1, there will be a 10 per cent reduction in ground handling charges at the Bandaranaike International Airport, while aircraft fuel will be sold at cost and on par with the lower Chennai prices. The airport embarkation tax will also be cut from US$60 to US$50.

Tourists visiting the Minneriya National Park in central Sri Lanka

“With these measures, the government expects airlines to pass the benefit of these concessions to customers by way of reduced airfares, restore suspended flights and increase existing frequencies and capacities,” a spokesperson from the Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Dubai-based Emirates Airlines said that the airline backs the efforts by the Sri Lankan government to boost the country’s tourism industry.

“As an airline that has served Colombo for more than 33 years, we are actively studying the different initiatives and concessions, effective from August 1, on how to stimulate greater demand for travel to the country,” the official said.

He added that after the Easter Sunday incidents, “Emirates made its commitment to the country clear when it waived fees for travellers wishing to change their travel dates, worked with tour operators to accommodate customers, and maintained our flight schedules, even though flight loads had reduced significantly”.

Local airline executives are also buoyed by the move. A senior official at Jetwing Travels, as well as GSA for Flydubai and a few foreign airlines, said this should stimulate more flights and arrivals.

The Jetwing Travels official, who declined to be named, said that an even more important decision on the government’s part was to offer free visa on arrival to 48 nationalities from August 1.

“This is an important step forward and (Sri Lanka) should see a sharp increase in arrivals,” he said. The fee-exempted visa offer, valid for six months, also applies to those applying for online visas.

Sanath Ukwatta, president of the Tourist Hotels Association of Sri Lanka, said: “These benefits and incentives will no doubt boost the industry and hopefully increase arrivals and make a positive change.”

He added: “As far as free visas are concerned, Thailand and Indonesia are already doing it without having a crisis at hand… I hope the government would continue this without offering it for six months only as this is becoming a regional trend and we need to stay competitive.”

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