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Monday, 17 August, 2015, 20 : 00 PM [IST]

India’s e-Tourist Visa Saga: A true growth story?

The gigantic growth of Foreign Tourist Arrivals using e-Tourist Visa (ETV) may be a reason to rejoice at the face value, but the underlying facts hardly give much joy. The country and government can convert this initiative into an opportunity to increase foreign tourist inflow. While it is an opportunity, there are many issues like logistics, infrastructure, etc., that need attention. Itee Sharma talks to industry players to know if ETV can be a game-changer for the industry
Himmat AnandIt has been nine months since the India government initiated the electronic-Tourist Visa (e-Tourist Visa) facility. Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) on e-Tourist Visa did register a growth of 1024.4 per cent during January to May 2015 compared with the same period in 2014. At present, the e-Tourist Visa facility is available to citizens of 77 countries arriving at nine airports in India.

The overall FTAs during the period January- June 2015 were 38.45 lakh, with a growth of 3.4 per cent over the same period in 2014. If we focus only on the growth in June, the numbers are unimpressive. FTAs during June 2015 were 5.13 lakh as compared with 5.05 lakh during June 2014 and 4.51 lakh in June 2013. There has been a growth of 1.8 per cent in June 2015 over the same month in 2014. So can the e-Tourist Visa facility be a game changer for India? Between June 2014 and 2015, the government has offered this facility to 76 countries; instead of the 12 countries it offered Visa-on-Arrival. This should have brought a manifold increase in FTAs, but it didn’t. Can it be attributed to the way the government has been promoting it?

Gajendra Singh PanwarSome from the industry blame it on the process of procuring the visa that has made it not-so-rewarding. “The e-Tourist Visa process is still not traveller-friendly and it takes over four days to get a visa for India,” said Himmat Anand, Founder, Tree of Life Resorts & Hotels.

The initiative is also not beneficial for travellers who like to plan their journey well in advance. Gajendra Singh Panwar, Director, Indo Asia Leisure Services Ltd, shared, “e-Tourist Visa can be applied for only 30 days prior the travel plan, hence travellers who plan their journeys 6–8 months ahead, can’t avail of this service. Further, it is not available for groups and it is not valid for multiple entry.”

Sharat DhallApart from that, the Ministry of Tourism (MoT) also has to make sure e-Tourist Visa facility is communicated to foreign nationals. “The biggest challenge is lack of awareness as the concept of e-visas is recent, and hence people are taking some time to understand and adopt,” stated Sharat Dhall, President, Yatra.com.

On the Platter
While India is exploring newer options to offer tourists such as adventure tourism, MICE, etc., it still derives many tourists who want to visit the conventional destinations like Agra, Himalayas, Jaipur, etc. “Seventy per cent of tourists who come to India, visit the Golden Triangle,” revealed Karan Anand, Head-Relationships, Cox & Kings Ltd. Hence, the government wants to bank on these conventional tourist destinations.

Neelu Singh“The steadily increasing FTA graph shows that India is a popular destination amongst international travellers, who visit the country to experience the culture and heritage, which is symbolic of India’s rich history and legacy. Many of these are repeat tourists,” iterated Neelu Singh, Director & CEO, Ezeego1.com.

However, depending solely on destinations that have traditionally brought tourists to India, may not be a safe bet. “The aura, which India had two decades ago has faded, with the rise of other Asian destinations like Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, etc. We need a total re-think if we are to stay in the tourism race. Despite a 3,000- km-long coast line, India has one globally known beach destination – Goa. The private sector can be partly blamed by not taking the initiative to drive newer destinations in a more effective manner,” said Himmat Anand.

Prashant Narayan“Inadequate awareness about destination India and its unique offerings too is a negative fallout for Inbound Tourism affecting growth,” informed Prashant Narayan, COO and Head Leisure Travel Inbound Business, Thomas Cook India Ltd. and TCI.

Corrective Measures
The success or failure of e-Tourist Visa holds more importance now as the government is keen on adding new countries on the list. It will soon extend the e-Tourist Visa facility to the citizens of 36 more countries from August 15. With this, the total number of countries that can avail of the e-Tourist Visa scheme will shoot up to 113 from the current 77. The government will make e-Tourist Visa available for 150 countries by March 2016. In order to make e-Tourist Visa the driving force of FTAs in India, certain remedial steps have to be taken. “While there is need for more government initiatives and relaxed taxation policies on products and services, with the entry of newer carriers and e-Tourist Visa facility, there is scope for creating a huge competitive space – overall, a positive development with correction in pricing, rationalisation, and a balanced perspective. The demand for meetings and conventions has already been witnessing an increasing growth with the addition of good hotels with convention facilities, and new hotels offering state-of-the-art facilities,” stated Narayan.

Karan AnandThe government will have to focus on how more foreign tourists can be attracted to India. Not just that, the facilities and infrastructure to cater to increasing tourists will also have to be built. “Holistically, the tourist numbers have gone up. Though India has a lot more air capacity, the number of airlines catering to India hasn’t gone up substantially. That throws an opportunity, if the government opens up the market. If an international airline starts its flights to Indian destinations, they have to market the destinations they fly to, which will bring tourists to India,” stated Karan Anand.

“Dedicated efforts are required for non-Internet users to educate them about the ease of applying and getting a visa. Updated embassy websites with clear instructions on the procedure for obtaining the visa will make the process convenient. It can be included in the ‘Incredible India’ marketing campaigns to highlight the ease of travelling to India. Travellers today are well aware and are more evolved to look at new and interesting options,” stated Dhall. The government recently announced the Incredible India Tourist Helpline, which will be started in 12 international languages within two months to assist the tourists visiting India.

“India lags behind in tourist infrastructure, such as decent hotels. There are no well trained guides, road facilities, toilet facilities on highways, etc. Let the service provider participate in improving the infrastructure of developing tourism sectors such as Odisha, West Bengal, the beaches, etc. Once we are done with building the infrastructure, we can definitely increase the number of tourists,” feels Panwar.

The Indian government, which wants to increase FTAs, has not been focusing on targeting the right audience. In the year 2014- 15, when the e-Tourist Visa was introduced, the government spent INR 166.35 crore on promotional and marketing activities, as against INR 195.29 crore in 2013-14 and 182.83 crore in 2012-13. Even as FTAs in January- June 2015 show an increase of a meagre 3.4 per cent, the Ministry has spent INR 24.99 crore in 2015-16, till the end of the first six months.

For any product to sell, it has to be marketed and branded well, to assure its sale. Either the government is too confident on word-of-mouth publicity, or India, as a destination, needs a more saleable business proposition and additional marketing budget.
 
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