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Will E-visas Help India Attract More Foreign Tourists?

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Last year, the number of Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in India was 7.46 million, about half the number of international visitors (15.1 million) to travel to the small island city state of Singapore.
To boost tourism in the country, Indian government recently announced that citizens from 43 countries can avail the e-visa facility at seven more airports. Last year in November, Indian government allowed the e-visa facility at nine international airports in India, namely, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Goa.

Such moves have been expected to give a big boost to the tourism industry as the tourists are not required to go through the long process of visiting the embassy and getting the visa approved much before the travel date.

In this current format, to get an e-visa, tourists can upload the documents and pay the required fees from the designated website and can get the electronic version of the visa within 96 hours.

Aloke Bajpai, CEO and co-founder of web and mobile travel search app informs, “The volume of queries and visits at their search engine have increased by 25 per cent by foreign tourists if you compare the data of January to June from 2014 to 2015. In fact we are already seeing a lot of inbound queries for October and November when the tourist season will begin again this year.”  

But, the FTAs during the period January- April 2015 were 28.21 lakh with a growth of 2.7 per cent, as compared to the FTAs of 27.47 lakh in January- April 2014. The numbers don’t show a great increase as one would have expected.

Bajpai adds: “Last year, when the government announced this facility, we saw some cases where people took a flight to India presuming they will get a visa on arrival and were flown back to their country. There was a lot of miscommunication in the earlier days. Though it has been simplified now, but still a lot more can be done to communicate the new process and make it smoother.”

Maahesh Aiyer, Chief Operating Officer- South, The Lemon Tree Hotel Company sees it as a overall positive step, “This move will not affect group travel because they are planned much ahead of schedule, but it will boost the last minute travel. In fact, this will be good for the travel and hospitality industry as one gets a higher realisation from customers on last minute bookings.

Bajpai suggests, and rightly so “The government should think about offering visa on arrival to a smaller subset of countries as it allows for a more spontaneous travel. South East Asia is an attractive travel destination for Indians because you can plan immediately and get visa on arrival after landing in the country, without worrying about it beforehand. In the current format, collating documents and uploading still takes time, though it is better than before, but it hasn’t changed the behaviour of travellers much.”

What India can do is focus on countries only a few hours away by flight. Tourists from China contribute to the highest number of foreign travellers in most of the countries today. “In Sri Lanka, China contributes to 70 per cent of tourist year on year. In India they are contributing only 2-3 per cent in terms of tourist composition and there is a lot of scope for growth here,” says Aiyer.

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