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Sri Lanka Hopes Casinos Get Boost through Visa-Free Travel

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In a bold move to stimulate tourism and potentially enhance the country's burgeoning casino industry, Sri Lanka has given the green light to visa-free travel for citizens from seven key countries. Under a trial program sanctioned by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, tourists from China, India, Russia, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia will enjoy the privilege of visa-free entry until March 31, 2024.

An Injection of Tourism Dollars

The strategic decision aims to revive Sri Lanka's tourism sector, which has faced challenges in recent times, exacerbated by the global pandemic. By offering a streamlined entry process to visitors from these nations, the country aspires to attract a diverse array of travelers and, in turn, breathe new life into its tourism-related industries.

Related: Sri Lanka Cabinet of Ministers Creates a Gambling Regulatory Authority

Rajapaksa's announcement follows the appointment of Dhammika Perera as the Investment Minister, a figure with significant ties to Sri Lanka's casino landscape. Perera is the owner of three out of the five casino licenses in the country, exercising control over Bally's Colombo, Bellagio Colombo and MGM Colombo. The alignment of this strategic move with Perera's appointment raises eyebrows and prompts speculation about the potential implications for Sri Lanka's burgeoning casino sector.

The trial program, which allows visa-free access for tourists from the selected countries, is expected to catalyze a surge in inbound tourism, offering a unique opportunity for the hospitality and entertainment industries to recover and thrive. Casinos, in particular, stand to benefit from increased visitor numbers.

Sri Lanka Casinos Gain Ground

Sri Lanka's casinos have been gradually gaining recognition in the region, and the visa-free initiative could act as a catalyst for further growth. However, it also raises questions about the intersection of political decisions and the economic interests of key industry players, especially with the Investment Minister having direct ties to the casino sector.

While the move is poised to invigorate the tourism landscape, critics argue that potential conflicts of interest should be carefully navigated to ensure transparency and uphold the integrity of governmental decisions. As the trial period unfolds, all eyes will be on Sri Lanka to observe the impact of this strategic visa policy on the nation's tourism, hospitality, and, notably, its thriving casino industry.

Sri Lanka received around a million international arrivals through the first three quarters of the year. It was the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic, with arrivals from Russia and India providing the majority of the international tourism.

As a result, the country earned just over $1.3 billion from tourism, according to the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, during that period. During the first three quarters of last year, the figure was just $833 million.

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