The Indian central and state governments, along with the companies they own, employ roughly 20 million people. The central government and its PSUs employ about 60 lakh. Today, all these employees enjoy leave travel assistance (LTA), but only for domestic travel.
One easy way to give a helping hand to Sri Lanka could be to let their LTA cover tourism to the island country.
Indians are already major tourist visitors to Sri Lanka — roughly, 50-60,000 Indians go to the southern neighbour, but by the simple action of extending government LTA to Sri Lanka, this number could go up manifold.
If you assume 2 per cent of all government employees go to the country every year, you are talking of an additional 400,000 people. Imagine what that would do to that country!
According to World Bank data, Sri Lanka received 540,000 tourists in 2020, earning the country $1.08 billion. India could just double that number. Even assuming that Indians don’t spend as much as tourists from wealthy countries, income from Indian visitors would still be a big boost to the Sri Lankan economy.
Nor would it be detrimental to India. India has a bouquet of tourist destinations and Sri Lanka would be just one addition. However, the LTA rules mandate that the assistance would be available only if the tourist takes an Indian airline.
In addition, it is possible to gently nudge Sri Lanka that it should buy hospitality industry-related products — from buses to hotel products such as bed linen and cutlery — only from India. Sri Lanka will benefit because it get to would keep all the tourist spends such as on food, internal travel and purchase of products.
Recently, India opened its ‘government purchases’ market to the UAE, surely for diplomatic reasons. The same logic would apply to extending government LTA to travel to Sri Lanka.