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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s travel trade has appealed to President Ranil Wickremesinghe over high priced visas and hidden fees charged by IVS-GBS-VFS Global, a private contractor, which has made getting tourist visa difficult and as well as more expensive.

Sri Lanka’s widely acclaimed ease-of-use ETA web page operated by the Department of Immigration was shifted to a private contractor for reasons that are not clear, leading to a website which is seeking a lot of information through a complex process.

“The previous system was straightforward and extremely easy to use for those with limited IT knowledge,” key travel associations wrote to president.

“The current system is complex with an OTP system, scrolling sections that are not easy to find, requirements of documents, complex format requirements for documents, unnecessary required fields (Second Address Line, Post Code)…”

The website was also asking for tourists twitter handles and facebook pages, taking more time. It is not clear why the IVS-GBS-VFS Global is asking for the information.

In the Maldives tourists are only required to fill in an arrival form.

The inconvenient visa platform was also charging a hidden previously undisclosed ‘convenience fee’ as well as processing free of 18.5 dollars per visa.

A survey by the travel associations showed that Sri Lanka was charging as much as 100.77 dollar from a tourist while competitors like Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam were either charging nothing or 25 dollars.

A family of four would have to spend 400 dollars before even entering the country.

“We respectfully urge you to intervene and restore a competitive and user-friendly visa process through a government-operated website, similar to the previous ETA system to enable a tourist to obtain the necessary 30-day single entry visa with ease,” the letter said.

“This is crucial to sustaining the positive momentum in our tourist industry and supporting the broader economic recovery efforts.”

Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators, Travel Agents Association of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Association of Professional Conference Exhibition and Event Organizers, Association of Small and Medium Enterprises in Tourism, IATA Agents Association of Sri Lanka, Boar of Airline Representatives, Sri Lanka Association of Airlines Representatives are making the appeal.

It the website and the fees are charged from tourists Sri Lanka may not be able to reach the 2.3 million target for tourism.

The private consortium stands to make about 12.7 billion rupees in 2024 based on a tourist target of 2.3 million, not counting a ‘convenience fee’ which may range from 5 to 7 odd dollar, which may add another 4 billion if all the cash goes to the firms.

However the travel trade warns that Sri Lank may miss the tourism target due to the IVS-GBS-VFS Global visa fees, the island may only get 2.0 million visitors.

Private firms like VFS Global are employed by Western nations who want to make it difficult to get visas and limit people entering their countries especially from Asian and African nations due to fears of illegal immigration. (Colombo/May04/2024)

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