BANGALORE India is juggling with entry barriers, launching a visa-on-arrival (VOA) facility for the first time (TTG Asia e-Daily, January 8) but imposing stringent visitor re-entry conditions.
Under the VOA scheme, presumably designed to attract more tourists to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, nationals of Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Finland and Luxembourg will receive a tourist VOA for single-entry trips of no more than 30 days when entering India through airports in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata, from January 1 to December 31, 2010.
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The trade has been demanding VOA for over a decade but the one-year experimental and limited run falls short of expectations. The Ministry of Tourism had earlier requested the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to extend VOA to nationals of 18 countries. However, citing security reasons, the government trimmed the list down to five.
“It’s never too late, but definitely too little,” said Indian Association of Tour Operators former president Subhash Goyal. “The government should have considered more countries for VOA. Apart from barring some hostile nations, we can probably give VOA to most countries around the world.”
Goyal added that the government was being short-sighted in its limited VOA application. “It will help tourism grow but VOA should not be withdrawn after a year, on security reasons.”
Travel Agent Association of India president Rajinder Rai believed VOA would be extended and expanded. “The experiment will be successful and the government will increase the number of countries after one year.”
But while removing one entry barrier for selected nationalities, the government has tightened re-entry regulations, now requiring a two-month gap between visits by foreign tourists with multi-entry visas. The new visa rules stemmed from the arrest of David Headley, the American charged for his role in the November 2008 Mumbai attacks, who was said to have misused his tourist visa. Foreign tourists, however, can re-enter the country within two months if they submit a detailed itinerary and supporting documents such as ticket bookings, according to an MEA statement.
Agents doubted though that stricter re-entry rules would necessarily improve internal security, given India’s porous borders. Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India president Rakesh Lamba feared the new visa re-entry rules would confuse tourists but was nonetheless pleased that the VOA scheme opens the floodgates for more tourists.Would VOA increase Singapore numbers to India?
“It only takes three days for visa applications to be approved. But the process is time-consuming and gets worse for groups of more than 10 pax. VOA would definitely make it easier for Singaporeans to travel to India, and I believe demand for and volume to India will increase with VOA in place.”Nandha Sharm Nair
Business development manager
G S Travel, Singapore
“I don’t think VOA for Singaporeans would significantly increase demand for India. It takes only a few days to get a visa as we submit applications in batches. In fact, it’s hassle-free for our customers because they just need to hand us their passport and we apply on their behalf. (Chan Brothers sends more than 500 Singaporeans to India every year.)”Jane Chang
Chan Brothers Travel