By John A Raju:
In a major boost to tourism in India, visa on arrival facility has been extended to 180 countries, including the US, UK and UAE. While this facility was earlier available only to twelve countries that included Japan, Finland, Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Myanmar; now it has been extended to all countries except eight prior notice countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan etc. (for obvious security reasons). Visitors from these countries have to apply for visa through embassy itself.
The significance of this reform in visa regime is immense. The new initiative is set to kick in from October. What earlier required trips to the embassy and myriad procedures for a visit to the country now needs only an internet connection and a computer. The tourists can apply and pay for electronic travel authorization at least three days prior to their date of travel, from the comfort of their homes. They will receive online confirmation within five working days. Only one biometric identification on reaching India and their visa will be on the way. The electronic travel authorization & the visa will be valid for a 30 day period and won’t be renewed. The visa on arrival endeavor will be implemented initially across 9 airports including the metropolitan cities of Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai & Chennai and also to airports in Hyderabad, Cochin, Goa & Trivandrum, before being extended to further destinations.
The liberalisation of the visa regime goes a long way to boosting tourism ties with these nations. Even before the new initiatives, tourism in India was expected to generate $42.8 billion by 2017, which is a 42% surge from 2007. With the reforms, this number is going to become obsolete by a long margin. Visa regime reforms in India have been long overdue. With the cultural heritage, historical significance, geographical versatility & natural beauty, India has always been a favourite holiday site for many visitors. With our improvement in the medical and science fields, the number of medical & research tourists are also rising. But we are only beginning to tap into the potential of becoming better hosts.
This initiative is also expected to be reciprocated by many nations resulting in Indians being more welcome in other lands as well. The frisking and extensive security checks on Indians in some airports across the world has caused much irritation & frustration for Indian travelers. With our visa barrier becoming more tourist friendly, there is set to be relaxed and more friendly attitudes to Indian tourists in other countries as well.
However, the visa reforms should only be seen as a beginning to more tourism boosting initiatives. Despite the vast scope of employment & revenue generation through the tourism industry, we aren’t utilizing our capabilities to the maximum. Boosting tourism infrastructure and improving security, especially for foreign women is necessary to attract more tourist and visitors. The government has opened the gate wider through these new initiatives, now they must ensure that our guests feel more at home and do not return from here with scarred memories, but rather with desires to visit again.