SL scraps visa on arrival policy

DUBAI: Tourists will not be able to take advantage of Sri Lanka's lax visa laws after next month, when a rule requiring travellers to apply and pay for visas in advance comes into effect.

Officials said the revenue raised from travel visas - previously issued at no cost to nationals of some countries - would be used to revive the economy of the war-ravaged country.

"Earlier visas were issued free on arrival," said Abdul Raheem, the Sri Lankan consul general in Dubai.

"There was a conflict in the country and we wanted to encourage tourists to come. But now the country is stable and the problems are over. We want to reinvest the revenue for tourism," he said.

The new Electronic Travel Authorisation system requires tourists and business travellers to apply online before their departure from January 1.

"Within 24 hours, they can get the acknowledgement and travel," he said.

Previously, nationals from 78 countries were granted free visas on arrival. Others were charged between Dh5 and Dh280. Under the revised rules, only citizens of Singapore and the Maldives can obtain free visas on arrival.

Travel documents for a month can cost between US$10 (Dh36) and U$25, depending on the nationality and purpose of the visit.

Travellers can also obtain visas at a consulate, but will be charged an administrative fee of between Dh5 and Dh100.

Emiratis will have to pay the highest amount based on reciprocity, as Sri Lankan nationals coming to the UAE for visits are charged US$250 (Dh918).

Transit visas for two days and travellers under 12 years of age will be allowed to enter the country at no cost.

John Podaras, a British resident, said though the move was a "minor inconvenience", it could have a negative perception.

"Any kind of bureaucracy at the border is seen as a negative step. But, ultimately one has to balance these considerations," he said, adding that the change could effect tourists making a choice between Sri Lanka and other destinations.

However, a travel agent said serious travellers would not be deterred.

"A small segment may think this is an inconvenience," said Premjit Bangara, general manager of Sharaf Travel.

"But serious travellers do not mind paying," he said, adding that the online process would facilitate quicker entry into the country.

Mr. Bangara said Sri Lanka was moving in the right direction with the civil war behind them.

"The economy was booming before the war. But, once political issues came up, everything went south. Most tourism boards offer stops during periods of lull to stimulate tourism," he said, adding the income from issuing visas could contribute to Sri Lanka's economy in a small way. (Source: The National)

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