The Sri Lankan government has launched an ambitious tourism promotion programme here aiming to give a boost to the key revenue-generating sector of the island nation by attracting more Indian tourists.

Sri Lanka Tourism Minister John Amaratunga presented a Ramayana Tourism Circuit at the Sri Lanka Tourism Roadshow organised here on Friday by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce (FICCI), along with the Sri Lankan Tourism Promotion Bureau.

Kochi: The Minister said a ferry service would be launched from Thalaimannar in Sri Lanka to Rameshwaram in Tamil Nadu as part of the promotion of the Ramayana Tourism circuit.

The Tamil Nadu government has given the green signal for this, Amaratunga was quoted as saying in a FICCI press release here.

The Minister said the ferry service was expected to start this year-end after completing the procedures with the government of India.

Amaratunga said Sri Lanka was trying to attract more tourists from South India.

Fromthis month, tourists visiting Sri Lanka would be provided free visas. With effect from August 1, tourists were offered a 50 per cent discount on hotel packages this season.

Ground-handling charges in airports have been substantially reduced.

Sri Lanka today has the highest number of concessions for its guests, the release quoted the Minister as saying.

"The highest number of tourists visiting Sri Lanka are from India. Sri Lanka's revenues from tourism were US $4.3 billion last year", the Minister said.

He said the free visa programmes and other facilities have been announced to encourage tourists from India.

"Due to some internal problems, Sri Lanka has not been more important to tourists from South India for some time. But the situation has changed. Now our country is a safe destination," Amaratunga said.

He said the new policies were part of a larger plan to revive the tourism industry.

Felix Rodrigo, advisor to the Minister of Tourism, delivered a presentation on Sri Lanka tourism at the roadshow.

The Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau assistant director Viranga Bandara introduced the features of Sri Lanka Tourism.

Kochi district Collector S Suhas, FICCI co-chairman Deepak L Aswani, FICCI state tourism committee convener UC Riyas and FICCI state head Savio Mathew also spoke.