Struggling Sri Lanka tourism players urge extension of debt moratorium, visa-free travel

Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is pressing the government to extend both the free tourist visa facility, and a moratorium on loan repayments to April 2021 until the sector sufficiently recovers from the devastating Easter terror attacks that took place 10 months ago.

In a bid to revive the tourism sector post-attacks, Sri Lanka launched a series of recovery efforts, including the tightening of security measures.

Sri Lanka’s tourism sector’s recovery post-terrorist attacks has been slow

Although Sri Lanka’s tourism are showing signs of gradual recovery, the pickup has been slow.

According to official data, tourist arrivals in 2019 dropped by 18 per cent to 1.9 million from 2.3 million in the previous year, the first annual drop in more than a decade.

During a meeting with the newly appointed tourism minister Prasanna Ranatunga on Tuesday, tourism industry officials requested that the free visa facility for travellers from more than 45 countries be extended for another year to April 2021, according to The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka president Sanath Ukwatte, who was present.

Also put forth was a request to extend a year-long moratorium on interest and capital repayment of loans taken by the tourism industry, which was implemented after the bomb blasts. “We have asked that this be extended till April 2021 when tourism gets back on track,” Ukwatte said.

He added that they also discussed the long delayed consumer marketing and promotion campaign, which the minister promised to consider expediting.

Travellers from India, China and the UK – Sri Lanka’s largest source markets – are among those eligible to free visas, which first came into force in the wake of the Easter Sunday blasts to encourage arrivals.

It was due to have been lifted in January 2020 but was extended till next April by the administration of president Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was elected last November.