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Rising Tourist Numbers and Digital Evolution: Sri Lanka’s Tourism Sector Surges to New Heights

Tourism in Sri Lanka is experiencing a significant upswing, propelled by the country’s emerging status as a must-visit destination. The introduction of visa-free travel for tourists from prominent nations such as China, India, Indonesia, Russia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan has acted as a catalyst, compelling travelers to include Sri Lanka at the forefront of their travel itineraries.

Travelers from these countries are required to obtain Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) before their arrival, contingent upon the issuance of a visa-free status. This arrangement, valid until March 2024, allows for a 30-day visa with double entry privileges from the initial date of arrival. Industry insiders speculate that the surge in tourist arrivals may lead to an extension of the visa-free travel scheme.

Notably, January of the current year witnessed a record-breaking influx of 208,253 visitors, the highest in four years, reflecting a remarkable year-on-year increase of 103.1%. The initial four days of February saw a continuation of this trend, with top-ranking countries including India, Russia, the UK, Germany, and China contributing to a daily average of 7,000 arrivals. Russia led with a 15% market share, followed by India at second place with 4,123 travelers, and the UK securing the third position with 2,592 arrivals (9%).

The ongoing surge in tourist numbers, surpassing 200,000 in January and nearly 92,000 within the first 12 days of February, signals a potential reception of 2 million visitors in 2024. This upswing could translate into a substantial revenue boost, reaching USD 6 billion for the tourism sector in the same year. By offering visa-free travel, Sri Lanka aims to attract more visitors, thereby fostering growth in the digital economy. Modern travelers, well-versed in digital payment options, anticipate a seamless and cashless payment experience throughout their travels.

Recognizing tourism as a pivotal economic sector, Sri Lanka acknowledges the need for a widespread acceptance of digital payments across various merchant platforms, from small local stores to larger enterprises. This facilitates a convenient, secure, and smooth payment experience for tourists during their stay. The Global Travel Intentions Study by Visa underscores the importance of seamless payment access in today’s experiential travel landscape. Enhancing Sri Lanka’s payment infrastructure, offering diverse payment options, and ensuring accessibility, both online and offline, would further elevate the country’s appeal to tourists.

Despite progress, Sri Lanka acknowledges the need for further advancement in digital payments. A study by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) highlights the prevalence of smartphones but emphasizes the necessity for improved digital literacy, particularly outside the Western Province.

With a government target of attracting 5 million tourists by 2029, potentially generating USD 21.6 billion by 2030, Sri Lanka is banking on increased tourism spending. This hinges on elevating spending per visitor to USD 4,000 and attracting high-spending tourists. The appeal of cashless payments lies not only in safety but also in the flexibility to pay in local currency, unlocking enticing offers on various services. Ultimately, combining memorable experiences, the natural beauty of the island, and the ease of digital payments promises to create enriching holiday experiences for tourists in Sri Lanka.

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