BRITAIN (eTN) – British nationals should see an end to frustrating delays and long queues if they wish to visit India. Electronic visas have been extended to the UK from August 15. The move was welcomed by travel industry workers and journalists at a promotional event hosted in London by India Tourism at St. James’ Court, a Taj Hotel. Indian High Commissioner, Ranjan Mathai, said the government was committed to pushing up tourist numbers and the extension of e-tourist visas to British nationals was a first step opening a window to increased access. Mr. Mathai said the facility would enable more tourists to enjoy the diversity of experiences available in India, extending from historical sites, beach holidays, climbing, trekking to viewing wildlife.
Prashant Pise, Minister, Press & Information at the India High Commission, explained the procedures in greater detail. He said the e-tourist visa system was in place in 113 countries and urged tour operators to circulate the hyperlink to the site. Mr. Pise said the process was simple, all that was required was a photograph and copy of passport details. The facility is only available to nationals of the UK. E-visas will be valid for entry at 16 airports in India and biometric details will be taken on arrival. The visas will be valid for 30 days from the date of arrival. E-visas will be limited to a maximum of two visits in a calendar year and only available to ordinary passport holders, not other categories. Visa fees should be paid online and an electronic visa will be issued within 72 hours. The fee will be non-refundable.
There has already been a marked increase in applications in countries where e-tourist visas have been introduced. 200,000 E-visas have been issued since the system was launched in November 2014. The biggest takeup has been in the United States. Tourism authorities hope to see a similar spike in visitor numbers from the UK. Including the UK, E-visas have been extended to a total of 77 countries since August. The list includes Argentina, Cuba, Malta, Malaysia, Poland, Spain and Venezuela. Raj Sunani, deputy director of India Tourism in the UK, said the target was to attract one million visitors to India in 2016. He pointed out that it was safe to travel in all parts of India, including Jammu and Kashmir, which has seen a decline in militant violence in recent years.
A spokesperson for Air India was enthusiastic about the e-tourist visa service saying it would make the process easier and cheaper. However, one UK tour operator has not been impressed by his experience so far. He said that while E-visas are good he did not find the application process user friendly at all:
“I did it for a couple of my friends but found many complications and incomplete information. For example once we complete the application form and at the point of making the payment, an applicant will not be able to make the payment if using a computer. And three failed attempts to make payment will make the application invalid. I came across this situation and as I was unable to make the payment on-line, I contacted the customer service who advised me to make the payment using our smart phone which turned off Wi-Fi connection. We had to open the website in our phone and enter the card details in the phone. I found it ridiculous as many people would not manage to do it on the phone. And more surprisingly, it is nowhere mentioned how we need to make the payment. I hope they sort out these problems soon.”
As the High Commissioner said, the introduction of the e-tourism visa is a first step. The difficulties experienced by the tour operator quoted above can be put down to teething problems. It is hoped that these early problems will be swiftly resolved if India is to meet its ambitious targets for tourism.