Seventy-five-year-old Abraham Mathew, from Chembur in Mumbai, has been saving to travel to Rome this April. But two weeks ago, he was informed that his application for a Schengen visa had not been processed. Depending on the type, such a visa allows the holder to travel within some parts or all of Europe’s 26-nation Schengen area.
“We have been told that the visa may not be cleared anytime soon. So, now, we are wondering if we should wait or head to Canada to spend the summer with my grandson,” said Mathew.
Like Mathew, hundreds of Indian tourists heading to European destinations are finding it difficult to get permits following the recent terror attacks in Brussels and Paris.
Dynisia Dharmai, Deputy Manager at SOTC, has had to turn away potential customers who want to travel to Western Europe this summer for this very reason. While in some cases it is taking almost 20 days to a month — compared to just a week, earlier — in others visa applications are being rejected.
Terror attacks have led visa-issuing authorities in these countries to take stringent measures when it comes to screening prospective travellers, making it challenging for tour agencies to make bookings for these destinations.
Long wait Formalities, which include elaborate background checks, fingerprinting and extensive documentation, are taking a toll, with travel companies witnessing a 10-15 per cent drop in travel to European destinations this summer. “If one applies for a Schengen visa now, it will not be possible to get it before June. Europe is not an easy destination at the moment,’’ says Dharmai.
Thomas Cook is already witnessing a shift in travel away from European capitals.
Biometric screening “This year, biometric screening was made mandatory for European destinations and this has led to the visa process getting prolonged. We find a surge of almost 45 per cent to countries like Australia as getting last-minute bookings to Europe is challenging this summer,’’ said Jatinder Paul Singh, a Senior Vice-President at Thomas Cook.
Travel management company FCM Travel, which runs Flight Shop stores, is witnessing a similar trend. “Travel to Western Europe has slid by almost 15 per cent this summer as the market is slow and travellers are apprehensive about spending on European destinations,’’ says Sagar Raman, Product Head, Flight Shop.
With the visa approval process getting elaborate, there is a preference for more tourist-friendly and safer destinations such as South-East Asian countries, which are a favourite with Indians who have limited travel budgets.
Online agencies are also sensing travel preferences for non-European destinations. “South-East Asian destinations have always been tourist-friendly. This summer, places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Bali, New Zealand and Australia are taking preference over European countries,’’ says Kapil Goswamy, CEO, Bigbreaks.com.
Thankfully for tour operators, there has been no dip in revenue as outbound Indian tourists are willing to spend money on other destinations.
“A package tour to Australia roughly costs the same as a trip to France. If customers opt for destinations such as Bali, they upgrade themselves to premium economy seats and five-star hotels with the money they would have spent on a European tour,” said a Mumbai-based operator.