It will soon be an easy and open season for international tourists headed for India. Tourists intending to travel to India from up to 180 countries will not be required to personally visit their local consulates to get visas but will be able to avail of Visa on Arrival facility at a number of international airports in India. Last October, the facility was extended to travellers from about 40 countries but in its bid to make India an attractive and more tourist-friendly place to visit, the government decided to push the initiative further to include more countries.
In a significant step towards liberalization of the visa regime, the government of India on Wednesday cleared two initiatives: visa on arrival and electronic travel authorization (ETA) for all countries barring eight “prior reference” countries including Pakistan, Iran, Sri Lanka and China. ETA will allow foreign travelers to apply for a visa from home and receive an online confirmation in five working days. It will take 5-6 months to put the infrastructure in place. Hopefully this will be implemented from the next tourist session beginning October.
Visa-on-arrival at 9 airports initially
The extension of visa-on-arrival and electronic travel authorization to citizens of 180 countries ndiwill be implemented initially at nine airports including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Cochin, Hyderabad, Goa and Trivandrum. Both facilities are likely to be implemented by the end of the year. India currently offers visa-on-arrival to tourists from 11 countries like Finland, the Philippines, Singapore and Japan. The decision was taken in a meeting convened by the Planning Commission that included representatives from the PMO, ministries of home affairs, external affairs and tourism. ETA will be available for a 30-day period from the date of the tourist’s arrival in India while VoA will also be for the same period for a single entry. Nationals from Pakistan, Sudan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Sri Lanka and Somalia were not included in the scheme, presumably for security reasons.
The facility will provide a major boost to the country’s tourism sector. A separate website would be set up for extending the facility to foreigners intending to visit India as tourists. To get a visa, they would need to apply on the designated website along with the required fees. They would be granted an electronic version of the visa within three days.
Tourism industry feels that extension of the Visa-on-Arrival facility to travellers from 180 countries is an excellent step forward taken by India, and will certainly give a big fillip to inbound tourism, which is languishing far below its potential considering the diversity of experiences that India offers. It will help break down the barrier to impulse travel and open up the country to those who decide at the last minute. In addition, the proposal to allow travellers to apply for visas online and receive the electronic visa within 5 days, eases up the entire process of travelling to India. Travel industry now expects this to significantly boost demand for hotels, flights and land transport within India and act as a catalyst to economic growth as well.
Official sources said that reforms include simplifying online visa system, relaxing visa regime for conferences and senior citizen foreign tourists. Airports like Goa, Gaya and Amritsar which have good number of foreign tourist arrivals may be included in the list of international airports where Visa on Arrival to foreign tourists would be made available. At present visa facility on arrival is available at international airports of Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, Kochi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. In 2012, India received 6.58 million foreign tourists, up 4.3 per cent over the previous year. India’s foreign exchange earnings in 2012 from tourists were $17.74 billion.