SUDIPTA DEV – Mumbai
Sri Lanka has introduced electronic visa processing from January 1, 2012 and has since then witnessed marked increase in visitor arrivals, particularly from India. The initial visa is for 30 days which can be further extended. “Following introduction of the electronic visa processing there has been almost 40 per cent increase in visitor arrivals from India,” said Thushara Rodrigo, consul, Consulate General of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka in Mumbai.
Tourists have to go to the website, answer a few questions and get the visa within 24 hours. The electronic visa processing system is linked to all the security systems around the world. “It has now become easy for tourists, particularly in places like Kolkata where there is no Sri Lankan mission, to apply from their home. You only need the visa number, you can go to Sri Lanka even without a printout of the visa,” stated Rodrigo. He pointed out that Sri Lanka is now a safe place, “After the war ended on May 19, 2009 there has been complete peace. That has been a major achievement.”
Sri Lanka is now concentrating on attracting tourists, particularly from neighbouring India. Traditionally a European holiday destination, the slowdown adversely affected the number of tourists coming from Europe. China and India are the growing markets. “After landing in Colombo, between two-three hours the tourist can reach from one destination to another. One does not have to spend too many hours on the road, and can have a relaxing vacation. The hotels are not too expensive and are known to provide quality service,” said Rodrigo. He mentioned that many international hotel companies are now coming up with new projects in Sri Lanka. “We are also developing the infrastructure, all the highways we are linked to tourism spots. After the war ended in 2009, there has been a big development, as the tourist sector is booming, the supportive sectors are growing – from transportation to tour guides, food, etc. The government’s cleanliness drive is strong, particularly for the tourism sector. It is a value for money holiday destination for Indians,” he asserted.
Sri Lanka is attracting an increasing number of elderly travellers from India who are opting for leisurely vacations. There have also been a few destination weddings. According to Rodrigo, Sri Lanka has proved its expertise in the meetings and conferences space while hosting the SAARC Summit and nearly 60 SAARC meetings. “We have all the facilities for meetings and conferences – at Colombo, Kandy and also down south. Many Indian associations are holding conferences in Sri Lanka,” he stated. Yet another niche segment from India that has been visiting Sri Lanka are student groups who are keen to study the bio diversity of the island nation. “The flora and fauna of various provinces are distinctively different and are interesting areas of study. Some big groups of students have gone to Colombo, Kandy and Sinharaja Forest Reserve. This is a new trend. We have also met a few schools,” added Rodrigo.
Not surprisingly, there is also a lot of interest in the Ramayana trail. “We are targeting more Indian tourists as India is our closest neighbour, we have old cultural relations and tourism will bridge the gap,” said Rodrigo.