Decks are being cleared to make India a more tourist friendly destination by extending on arrival visa for 40 more countries, simplifying online visa and attracting senior citizen foreign visitors.

A high level committee having representatives from Home Ministry, Tourism Ministry, Foreign Ministry, Planning Commission and National Security Advisor has decided to take the initiative forward.

The decision taken in the meeting of the panel to ease tourist visa norms earlier this month at Yojana Bhavan has been sent to the Tourism and Home Ministries for administrative action by the Planning Commission.

“Now Home Ministry will take necessary action. It is an administrative decision which will soon see light of the day,” Planning Minister Rajeev Shukla said.

According to the Minister, besides increasing the ambit of Tourist Visa on Arrival (TVoA) facility, the panel has decided to allow visa under TVoA category to delegates visiting India for meetings, conferences and exhibitions.

At present, visa is issued to delegates on the basis of report about the credentials of the conference organisers.

Moreover there is a separate category of visa for delegates of such events.

Initiatives to boost tourism

Shukla further said that it has also been decided to simplify and standardise the visa application form and photograph for the same.

Moreover, the column for disclosing religion in the visa application form is proposed to be deleted.

The panel has also called for initiating Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA) facility to all countries except the ones in Priority Reference (PR) list.

The Minister said that India will also take initiatives to facilitate tourists or couples whose age is 60 years or above from all countries except PR list (nations) to tap the pensioners market.

The panel was unanimous that the issue of TVoA and ETA facility to China may be taken up bilaterally and decided on the basis of reciprocity.

The countries for which visa on arrival facility would be extended include the US, the UK, Canada, Brazil, Australia, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Germany, France, Italy, Swedan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Poland, Norway and Ireland.

Under TVoA system, India has agreement with 11 countries – Japan, Finland, Singapore, Indonesia, Laos, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines and Myanmar.

At present, the TVoA facility on arrival visa facility is available at international airports of Delhi, Chennai, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Thiruvananthapuram.

The panel has also decided to expand this faclity to other airports.

Besides Commission’s Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, others who participated in deliberations on the issue include Foreign Secretary (Sujatha Singh), Tourism Secretary (Parvez Dewan), Additional Secretary, Home Affairs and representatives from the Intelligence Bureau and the PMO (Prime Minister’s Office).

Bridging wide current account deficit

Shukla said these initiatives will help in attracting more foreign tourists and garnering larger foreign exchange, thereby helping bridge the wide current account deficit.

The current account deficit is the difference between inflow and outflow of foreign exchange.

During 2012-13, the CAD was at an all-time high of 4.8 per cent of GDP or $88.2 billion. Government proposes to bring it down to $70 billion or 3.8 per cent of the GDP this fiscal.

In 2012, India received 6.58 million foreign tourists, up 4.3 per cent over the previous year. India’s foreign exchange earnings in 2012 from tourism were at $17.74 billion, showing an increase of 7.1 per cent year on year.

India’s share in the international tourist receipts in 2012 stood at 0.64 per cent, with an overall ranking of 41.

Foreign exchange earnings from tourism during January to August 2013 were at $12.025 billion, a growth of 6.7 per cent, as compared to $11.273 billion during the same period of last year.

(This article was published on October 25, 2013)
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