Colombo: Sri Lanka on Thursday extended the free visa-on-arrival scheme till April 30 for the citizens of 48 countries, including India, Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga said, as the country tries to revive the tourism sector which was hit by the Easter Sunday bombings. In April, Sri Lanka suspended its plans to grant visa-on-arrival to citizens of 39 countries after the devastating bombings that killed 258 people. In July, the island nation added more countries, including India and China after it re-launched the free visa on arrival scheme, which was implemented from August 1. "We have decided to extend this facility due to requests from the stakeholders. A Cabinet paper would be submitted for this purpose," Ranatunga said. In the aftermath of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks, the USD 20 visa fee for South Asian travelers and USD 35 fee applicable to visitors from the rest of the world were waived off. Tourism which contributes 5 percent to the island's GDP was dealt a severe blow after the ISIS-linked local extremist group National Thawheed Jammath (NTJ) carried out suicide bombings that killed over 260 people at three luxury hotels and three churches on April 21. Sri Lanka's tourism arrivals had received a boost by early 2019 with an over 10 percent increase in arrivals year on year. The Lonely Planet had by then named Sri Lanka as a top tourist destination in the world. However, after the Easter Sunday bombings, the industry suffered mass scale cancellations of prior bookings. In May last year, the arrivals suffered over a 70 percent slump. The tourism industry officials said the arrivals during 2019 were well below the 1.9 million arrivals target. The first 11 months data for 2019 had shown arrivals had been 1.67 million down by nearly 20 percent. The bombings, which targeted three Catholic churches and three posh Colombo hotels, killed over 250 people, including 44 foreigners, and injured over 500, including 37 foreigners. Tourism industry officials said there have been 70 percent cancellations of prior bookings after the attacks. The US, China, the UK, India, and Australia were among the countries which issued travel warnings on Sri Lanka following the Easter Sunday blasts.
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