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Tuesday, 19 May, 2015, 13 : 00 PM [IST]

Tourism Boom – e-tourist visa for Chinese - Anil Bhandari, Chairman, AB Smart Concepts

Anil BhandariThe three-day tour of Narendra Modi to China has brought good news for the tourism industry as the Prime Minister unveiled an electronic tourist visa (e-tourist visa) plan for Chinese nationals, which will enable tourists from the neighbouring country to apply for an Indian visa online. This will attract a larger numbers of tourists from China.

Credit must be given to the Prime Minister for making the e-tourist visa facility announcement as it is bound to revive India and China’s centuries-old religious and spiritual ties. In 2014, China’s outbound was over 100 million out of which India received about 0.20 million Chinese tourists.

Two thousand years ago, when visas were not required, the Prime Minister told the India-China Business Forum at Shanghai about the visit of two Indian monks to China at the invitation of Emperor Ming. They came with two white horses, bringing Sanskrit scriptures with them. They translated Buddhist classics and scriptures into Chinese language, introducing Buddhism to China. To honour the event, the Emperor built a temple known as the White Horse Temple.

On the first day of his visit to President Xi Jinping’s hometown Xi’an in Shaanxi province, the Prime Minister presented President Xi replicas of a stone casket of Buddhist relics and a stone statue of Buddha that were excavated in 1957 from a 3rd-4th century AD stupa at Dev-ni-Mori, 80 km east of Vadnagar, Modi’s hometown.

Vadnagar was one of the places visited by the Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang around 641 AD. Excavations indicate existence of a Buddhist centre at Vadnagar in the 2nd century AD. Hieun Tsang had recorded that there were over 1,000 monks in ten monasteries at Vadnagar. The Prime Minister visited the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda where Hieun Tsang had translated the sutras he had brought to China from India.

By highlighting the traditional links such as religion, culture, yoga and newer interests through the social media and among the Chinese younger generation such as student and cultural exchange programmes, screening of Bollywood films, etc. would help in the building of bridges between the world’s largest democracy and the most populous country.

India can promote itself through innovative marketing campaigns in China as an ideal MICE destination, especially with its hotels, resorts and latest hospitality and conference facilities. India’s rich cultural heritage, excellent beaches, flora, fauna, and a wide range of adventure holidays can be combined as pre- and post-conference tours.

Chinese billionaire Li Jinyuan took 6,400 staff members of his company on a four-day holiday in May this year to Paris and Cannes on an Incentive tour. In Paris 140 hotels were booked and in Nice 4,760 rooms in 79 four-and five-star hotels. The group’s expenses in France were GBP 20 million and in Nice GBP 13 million for this biggest-ever tour group visit.

The advantages of organiaing MICE events in India need to be given publicity among China’s industrial houses, especially as China-India relation have reached an even higher level of commitment as leading firms from the two sides have signed deals worth USD 22 billion during Modi’s three-day visit and the USD 20 billion already committed during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to India in September last year.

Traditional Sino-Indian links include culture and trade as well as a shared legacy of Ayurveda and Yoga which became part of the Chinese milieu along with Buddhism over 1,500 years ago. The Indian brand of yoga is gaining popularity in China and there are plans to set up a centre of AYUSH, (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) at the Indian embassy in Beijing where Modi took part in a Yoga-Tai chi event. Likewise, centres for teaching of Tai-chi in Indian cities would encourage cultural bonding.

The Indian Hindi film industry, better known as Bollywood, after a prolonged gap, has ensured the cultural proximity that the two countries once shared. PK, the Rajkumar Hirani directed film starring Aamir Khan is set to entertain audiences in 3,500 movie theatres in China. Till now the widest release enjoyed by a Bollywood film there was Dhoom 3 which earned about Rs 24 crore after its release in 2,000 halls in July 2014.

Creation of best-in-class visitor experience is essential to promote visitations by Chinese tourists. Servicing of the electronic tourist visa at India’s consular branches in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guanghzhou needs be taken forward by the Ministry of Tourism and other related ministries immediately. Roadshows, cultural and food festivals on the pattern of the Festival of India should be organised in various Chinese cities to familiarise the people with Indian traditions. Incredible India, the Ministry of Tourism website, has a Chinese version among eight other foreign languages. Further steps are needed to make our Chinese visitors feel at home in India.

I suggest the Ministry of Tourism develop special tourism products to meet the requirements of tourists from China such as provision of Chinese-speaking guides and audio-guides. Tourist literature should be available in the language as well as availability of a list of Chinese restaurants in various cities to add to the experience for the visitors.

Infrastructural and tourist facilities need to be strengthened before promotion of the Buddhist and Heritage Circuits like Varanasi, Sarnath, Bodh Gaya, Kushinagar, Sravasti, Nalanda, Rajgir, Vaishali and Aurangabad, with special attention to Vadnagar in Gujarat where a large number of modern-day “Hiuen Tsangs” can be expected.

Likewise, for the Yoga and Wellness Circuits amenities at Haridwar (Patanjali Ashram) and Rishikesh should be made more tourist-friendly. Destinations in South India may be opened for Chinese visitors gradually.

At present Air India and China Eastern Airlines have flights between Delhi and Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. Additional flights will be required to meet the expected increase in traffic as 2015 is being observed as the Visit India Year in China and 2016 will herald the Visit China Year in India.

Members of Indian Association of Tour Operators and Travel Agents Association of India should visit China and meet their counterparts to familiarize them with the wealth of India’s tourism products, varieties of activities and rich prospects in promotion of group tours, leisure and business tourism to India

Even the Prime Minister while addressing the Indian diaspora in China said that each Indian should familiarize the Chinese with the religious, cultural and tourist products in India and ensure that 10 Chinese visit India. There are more Indians living in China than Chinese residing in India, there being 13,000 Indian students in China compared to the 2,000 Chinese studying in India. Better people-to-people contact would strengthen relationships between the two Asian countries leading to revival of the Hindi-Chini bhai bhai spirit and increase in inbound tourism to India.
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