x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

India to woo tourists with bold visa reforms

India mulls issuing visas on arrival for visitors from 40 more countries, raising hopes it will overcome national security fears to boost its tourism industry.

Indian and foreign tourists visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images
Indian and foreign tourists visit the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

NEW DELHI // Tourists from the UAE and 39 other countries may soon be able to obtain a visa on arrival in India, as the government attempts to increase dismal tourism figures.

Only 6.58 million tourists visited India in 2012, despite the country’s vast attractions. In comparison, Dubai alone has hosted more than 5.5 million tourists in the first half of this year.

“There was a consensus about initiating the process to make India a tourist-friendly country and extending the on-arrival visa facility to around 40 more countries,” Rajeev Shukla, India’s planning minister, told the Press Trust of India today.

The new visa regime requires approval from the Indian cabinet before it comes into force.

India currently issues tourist visas on arrival only to visitors from a dozen nations, including Finland, Singapore, Indonesia, New Zealand and Japan. Other tourists are forced to apply weeks in advance in person at an Indian visa processing centre, a bureaucratic process that is often Byzantine and daunting.

A quarter of India’s tourists arrive from the United States and the United Kingdom. As a part of the new regime, these visitors will now be issued tourist visas on arrival, as will tourists from Canada, Brazil, Australia, other nations in Western Europe, and Saudi Arabia.

India will not demand reciprocal visa-on-arrival arrangements from these 40 countries for Indian tourists.

“There really hasn’t been such a substantial move by the government to benefit tourism in a long time,” said Ram Badrinathan, the founder and chief executive of Global Then, which provides training to people in the travel and hospitality industry.

“India is already not an easy country,” said Mr Badrinathan.

“There are all sorts of other bureaucratic hurdles, so if you add this extra layer of visa bureaucracy, tourists can get really put off.”

To European tourists, for example, India was already a difficult country to sell, particularly when their passports allowed them to go virtually anywhere else in the world without a pre-approved visa.

“They often feel that there are so many other destinations to get to, and that it isn’t worth their while applying for a visa,” he said.

“So this is really quite a path-breaking thing, and it will have an enormous effect on the tourism industry in India.”

ssubramanian@thenational.ae