It’s early afternoon at the Bandaranaike International Airport outside Colombo.
A stream of visitors arrives from London or Dubai, Frankfurt or Hong Kong. They meet their tour guides or drivers and are whisked out in air-conditioned vehicles into the tropical greenery.
Visitor numbers to the island have risen, and most of these new arrivals from overseas will have just been given visas-on-arrival, free of charge, which are available for 84 countries.
But that will soon change.
Ambassadors and other VIPs were recently invited to an opulent ceremony in Colombo at which it was confirmed that the system would be altered.
To the accompaniment of folk-dancing and drumming, a new system was unveiled. From 1 January, tourists or business travellers will need to apply in advance, usually online via new site, www.eta.gov.lk and pay a processing fee of $50 (£32) for tourists, $60 for business travellers or $25 for transit passengers. Only those from Singapore or The Maldives will be exempt.
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Francesca and Simon Anthony
You might think twice, especially if travelling between different countries or destinations in one trip”
Francesca Anthony Tourist
This will secure them what is called an ETA (Electronic Travel Authorisation), which will give tourists a double-entry month-long permit, business people multiple-entry, and transit passengers seven days. Most will get it but those who are turned down will not be reimbursed. The process will take a few days.
Third parties or registered agents can also apply.
For visits longer than a month, additional visa fees are payable, varying from country to country.
The government says it will be a simple and quick system.
“A processing fee to get a visa is already in operation in many other countries including Europe and the American continent,” Rumy Jauffer, the managing director of the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, told the BBC.
“So that’s not going to be a major problem at all. Welcome to Sri Lanka.”
Asked whether he thought Sri Lanka might lose out to destinations such as Malaysia and Thailand, which levy no visa fee, he pointed out that India had strict visa regulations.
He also denied that security was a motivating factor in introducing prior approval of visitors. At the launch, however, a senior immigration official said that the system arose from the need to balance “facilitation and regulation”, as advised by Sri Lanka’s defence secretary, and many believe security is an issue.
Source – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15239654
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