In international diplomacy, bilaterals command a lot of weight when it comes to policy decisions about trade, commerce, travel exchanges, etc. Reciprocity is the cornerstone of many decisions, and there is an unwritten ‘tit for tat’ approach followed by countries. It demands a lot of political will on the part of the incumbent governments to break the conventions and take a unilateral decision. Travel facilitation like visa processing, revision of visa fee, etc. is also governed by diplomatic relationships between countries.
The travel and tourism industry the world over has been harping on the need to unshackle the regulatory visa procedures so that people can easily cross their geographical boundaries for leisure, meetings, business, etc. The constant lobbying by global organisations has had a certain impact on communicating the value that tourism can create to the economy of a nation. However, a lot of countries, including India, are still stuck in the conventional reciprocal mindset.
Although the Indian government rolled out the Electronic Tourist Visa (ETV) system last year to boost tourism, the move has hardly spurred inbound growth because of many unresolved issues within the policy. The system was also in a way bundled into issues of reciprocity that stopped policy-makers from extending the privilege of ETV to many source countries which are critical to Indian tourism.
Even the latest revision of visa fee for ETV by the Home Ministry clearly spells out the fact that the government has truly followed the “principle of reciprocity” while setting the 4 slabs. On a reciprocal gesture, India has waived off visa fee completely for citizens of 19 countries/territories from the list of 113 nations which are eligible for ETV. Unfortunately, except for one or two, the rest of the island nations in the ‘zero’ list are just small dots on the world map, and do not contribute to the overall inbound numbers to India.
The attempt is not to assert that visa liberalisation is the single most important element that drives tourism. Many other factors combine together while deciding a travel destination. Image and perceptions about safety, security, socio-cultural issues, infrastructure, and connectivity, all play their role in some way or the other.
As a destination, challenges before Incredible India are multiple. On the one hand, it has to constantly work on policies that can support and help grow tourism in the country, on the other it has to weather the perception problems about the destination. This year did start on a very high note with all the positive vibes from the new government. However, few unwanted incidents of cultural policing by fringe elements vitiated the atmosphere, and turned the clock back again.
We need to get the optimism flowing, once again. In this highly globalise world, it is not our political Modis, but global Moodys who determine our credibility as a destination!
P Krishna Kumar
Bureau Chief, New Delhi