Move designed to “open the floodgates of tourists”
India has announced it will extend its visas on arrival (VoAs) to 180 countries and implement an online system for visa issuance, in a major initiative to liberalise its visa regime.
The VoA facility will be initially rolled out at nine airports including New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Kochi, Hyderabad and Goa. It is expected to be in place in time for the peak travel season in October.
Nationals from only 11 countries are currently allowed VoAs in India. In the future, just eight countries will be barred from the scheme – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and Somalia. China will be removed from the list if the country reciprocates with a similar facility for people from India.
India will simultaneously launch a new electronic travel authorisation (ETA) system, allowing travellers to apply for and print out travel authorisation within five days. Travellers need only produce the document on reaching India to receive a VoA.
Calling the announcement the “best move so far to liberalise [India’s] visa system,” Sarabjit Singh, senior vice president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, said: “We were losing tourist arrivals as our visa regime was restrictive. This will open the floodgates of tourists and help us develop new markets. The ETA will help frequent-flier tourists who don’t have time to visit embassies and wait […] for visa processing,” he said.
“The next two years will be a game changer for India’s tourism sector, with foreign tourist arrivals expected to cross the eight million mark by 2015,” Neelu Singh, COO of Ezeego1.com, said “With visa norms being relaxed and VoAs made available at 26 major airports, tourists can plan a trip to India on shorter notice.”
[photo courtesy Ministry of Tourism, India]