Opening doors

The government’s decision to grant visa on arrival and electronic travel authorisation to citizens of 180 countries will give a major boost to tourism in the country.

Simplification of visa procedures has been long discussed between the tourism ministry and the national security establishment and the final decision is sensible and bold. Citizens of only 11 countries enjoy the visa on arrival facility now. Even with the new policy it will not be granted to those from eight countries including Pakistan and Sri Lanka  on security considerations. Extension of the facility to people from most parts of the world even unilaterally makes sense, because the visa on arrival system does not compromise on security considerations. The information about visitors sought by Indian embassies and provided by intending visitors is accessible for verification at airports on arrival also. On-the-spot processing and approval save the visitors the trouble of visiting the embassies and other procedural hazzles. This will serve as an incentive  for many visitors.

The tourism ministry and the industry have been campaigning for this decision. It  is expected to come into effect in October. It will be counterproductive if the necessary soft and hard infrastructure is not put in place to cope with the possible increase in visitors’ arrivals. Facilities at the airports should be upgraded and the immigration department should not be found short-staffed as it is now.  Inconveniencing of visitors in typical bureaucratic ways and unnecessary delays will not help the cause of the government’s move. It is also important to increase the number of the hospitality staff and improve infrastructure like hotel accommodation to take full advantage of the decision.

It is well known that the tourist arrivals in the country are much less than its potential. Though the country has some of the best attractions in the world and has diversities of  geography, weather and culture to suit the tastes of all types of visitors this potential is yet to be fully realised. There is greater scope for religious tourism also. Internal tourism is strong but international arrivals have to grow much faster.  India accounts for just 0.6 per cent of the world tourist traffic and even small countries like Singapore and Thailand are doing much better than the country. Apart from economic benefits like increased foreign exchange earnings and investment in infrastructure, improvement in tourism can also increase the country’s soft power by creating greater understanding and good will among the visitors.

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