New visa rules for visitors to Sri Lanka involving the payment of a visa fee has generated revenues of Rs 550 million during January to March this year, officials said. Revenue from this new source is targeted at, at least Rs 2 billion this year.
Immigration Controller Chulananda Perera, speaking with the Business Times on Monday just before addressing a section of the business community in Colombo, said the new visa procedures were currently operating "very smoothly."
The new visa processing system or the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) introduced in October last year was fully implemented on January 1. Mr Perera later addressed members of the Sunday Times Business Club (STBC) at their monthly meeting at the Taj Samudra Hotel on the reforms that has led to a substantial improvement in the Immigration and Emigration Department.
He said visitors are provided the opportunity to obtain visas on arrival at the airport by checking online, which is currently in progress as well has reduced in its numbers. Mr. Perera observed that although previously there were larger numbers obtaining visas on arrival this had reduced considerably with only about 5% of the visitors obtaining visas on arrival at the airport. In future, authorities would work towards tracking tourists while touring the country, he said.
This would provide an opportunity for the authorities to ascertain the movements of tourists to the country to ensure their safety as well especially during natural disasters, Mr. Perera explained. He also observed that this would provide relevant information for the tourism industry to obtain accurate data on room nights spent by tourists as well.
Meanwhile, the department in itself has taken a dramatic change with employees requested to provide an improved service to the people with a pleasing personality and through friendly 'eye to eye' contact when serving them. Mr. Perera explained that these measures were taken alongside motivational factors employed to provide a boost for its employees' welfare.
In this regard, the department now boasts of a strong welfare culture, gymnasium, library, theatre and a host of other activities like encouraging practicing yoga and meditation. The department has also provided motivation to its employees by providing free trips for pilgrimages to India jointly with the assistance of the tour operators.
Use of the 5S system is also extensively carried out with the regional offices of the department also taking on a new look, it was explained. He also noted that with private partnerships they were able to obtain the assistance of the three-wheel drivers in the area to control to some extent certain nefarious activities taking place around the building.
Providing an improved service and becoming less rigid, Mr Perera noted they were now able to render a better deal to its customers with increased efficiency. While the Sri Lankan Diaspora presently numbers 800,000, labour migrants total around 1.9 million. The STBC is sponsored by Etisalat, co-sponsored by Hameedia and hosted by the Taj Samudra.
(Business Editor's note: The revenue figures were earlier erroneously reported as $550 million
(In US dollars) instead of Rs 550 million (In Sri Lanka rupees).