INDIA today announced it will extend 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, Goa and Trivandrum, in time for the peak travel season in October.
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 upon reaching India to receive a VoA.
Only nationals from 11 countries are currently allowed VoAs in India. In the future, only eight countries will be barred from the scheme, namely Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria and Somalia. China will be removed from the list should the country reciprocate with a similar facility for Indians.
Calling the announcement the “best move so far to liberalise (India’s) visa system”, Sarabjit Singh, senior vice president, 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. ETA will help frequent flier tourists who don’t have time to visit embassies and wait for long for visa processing,” he said.
Ranjan Kumar Mishra, managing director, Eastern Voyage, expects a surge in arrivals for the coming season as a result. “States like Odisha that receive limited number of tourists will also gain as tourist arrivals in the country increase."
Similarly, Neelu Singh, COO of Ezeego1.com, pointed to the importance of VoA for inbound tourism to India. “Last year the number of foreign tourists who availed of VoAs increased by 26.2 per cent as compared to 2012, which only signals the importance of introducing this facility.”
“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. With visa norms being relaxed and VoAs made available (eventually) at 26 major airports…tourists can plan a trip to India on shorter notice,” she said.