UPDATED: Sri Lanka green lights visa-free travel pilot

By Luke Barras-hill |

Dufry/Avolta store at Colombo Bandaranaike International Airport. Source: Shutterstock/Karasev Viktor.

The Government of Sri Lanka’s cabinet has approved visa-free entry to tourists from seven countries, including India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Indonesia and Thailand under a new pilot.

Effective immediately, the pilot will run until 31 March 2024 in a move designed to boost tourism, as the island contends with a fragile economic picture – last year, mass protests related to Sri Lanka’s economy, notably fuel and essentials shortages, turned to violence – coupled with its recovery from the pandemic.

The announcement was confirmed yesterday (24 October) by the country’s foreign affairs minister Ali Sabry via ‘X’ (formerly Twitter).

A Cabinet Decisions circular seen by TRBusiness outlines that the move was taken by the Cabinet of Ministers in accordance with joint proposals presented by the Hon. Prime Minister, Minister of Tourism and Lands, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Public Security.

Five million arrivals by 2026

Sri Lanka is aiming to lift its tourist arrivals to five million by 2026, said the circular.

According to data from the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, the island received just over one million tourists in the nine months through September 2023.

Travellers from India (200,310), Russia (132,300) and the United Kingdom (90,843) made up the top three.

“Currently, many Asian tourist destinations are competing to raise their tourism market, which has fallen due to the Covid epidemic,” read the circular.

“Most of the countries are taking steps to provide visa free of charge to tourists. Therefore, several new tourism promotion programmes have been planned for the promotion of the Sri Lankan tourism industry, which is slow due to the [2019] Easter Sunday attack, the Covid epidemic and the subsequent serious economic crisis.”

The news will undoubtedly be welcomed by Sri Lanka’s travel retail industry, which counts the likes of Dufry/Avolta and Flemingo, both of which operate concessions at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport, the hub for flag carrier SriLankan Airlines.

“These new visa rules will help travel retail to be opened downtown and of course hospitality and airlines will benefit,” one distributor source told TRBusiness. “I am excited and energised by this news.”

One World Duty Free: A remarkable opportunity

In turn, the development is timely as Sri Lanka prepares to welcome its first downtown duty free store.

Singapore-owned omni-channel duty free operator One World Duty Free (ODF) will develop and operate a 1,250sq m duty free shop at the 7,000sq m Port City Duty Free Mall.

ODF struck an alliance earlier this year with the Colombo Port City Economic Commission, which regulates and controls operations at Port City Colombo, developed in collaboration with the government and CHEC Port City Colombo (Pvt) Ltd as a public-private partnership.

Once complete, visitors will enjoy a mix of international brands spanning beauty, wellness, spirits & wines and fashion.

Port City Mall will nestle among prestigious international hotels and casinos, catering to the diverse needs of tourists, expatriates and locals.

L-R: Dr Priyath B. Wickrama, Director General of the Commission and Commission Member, Colombo Port City Economic Commission and Keira Zhang, Founder & CEO of One World Duty Free, signed an agreement earlier this year to operate Sri Lanka’s first downtown duty free store.

It will be ODF’s first retail store outside of Singapore. Port City Colombo is Sri Lanka’s biggest FDI-funded development.

Keira Zhang, Founder & CEO, One World Duty Free (ODF), told TRBusiness: “The approval of free tourist visas for seven countries is a significant milestone for Sri Lanka’s travel retail business.

“This move will not only reinvigorate the tourism sector but is also a remarkable opportunity for One World Duty Free to elevate our global presence as an upcoming travel retail brand. With our first international retail store opening soon in Sri Lanka, we are excited to capitalise on this opportunity by offering travellers a world-class shopping experience with a curated mix of international brand favourites.

“We are excited to play our part in helping Sri Lanka become a leading tourist destination and contribute to the country’s economic growth, connecting cultures, and elevating the travel retail experience.”

Main image credit: SriLankan Airlines.

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