Business Times

Online visa adds to traveller confusion

By Sunimalee Dias

Tour operators have conveyed their concerns to relevant authorities over the use of the new online visa system although the Immigration and Emigration Department says they have not received any complaints or applications for processing online yet.

Industry officials told the Business Times that the website has caused much of confusion in relation to its use and believed that this could affect arrivals in the future as other destinations continue to offer on arrival visas.

However, Immigration Controller General Chulananda Perera said they have not received any complaints from the industry or applications for processing. While some foreign tour operators have complained to their respective travel agents in Colombo that they are unable to access the website, UK holiday companies have noted that they are unable to use the payment gateway. In addition, British travelers are unable to enter the postal code as the present field in this regard is catered towards the US system.A local travel agent official handling the UK market pointed out that although there have been no cancellations yet, if the issues are not rectified in time it could affect tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka. The official noted that although initially there may not be an impact, travelers are likely to opt for destinations that offer travel either with no visas or on arrival visas like in Thailand and Malaysia. Travellers perceive obtaining visas online or even prior to departure as a “hassle”, the official added.

Sri Lanka Tourism Convention Bureau General Manager Vipula Wanigasekara, who is assisting the industry on matters pertaining to the online visa system, said those who want to fill the application and obtain the visa before January 1 could arrive without making any payment provided they are tourists.
It was pointed out that this trial period is implemented in order for the industry to “get used” to the system and no payment is required although an acknowledgement will be made online.

He also noted that in the case of those seeking to make payment for arrivals after January 1, the relevant payment gateway will be made available in due course. But he pointed out that they had only received a few clarifications on this subject.

The question of whether one should come to Sri Lanka or not in the future is likely to occur, Aitken Spence Hotels Managing Director Malin Hapugoda said adding that it will definitely have an impact. Tourist Hotels Association President Anura Lokuhetty observed that people prefer an “open door” policy and pointed out that obtaining clearance for visas can affect arrivals from India and the Middle East. Arrivals from these two markets book at the last minute compare to those from the European markets.

Further, group travel is also likely to get affected in addition due to the increasing cost incurred by families travelling with children. In this regard, the industry has made a proposal to allow children to free entry to Sri Lanka.

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