e-visa overhaul opens avenues in ’17

While last year was full of highs and lows for the travel industry, an optimistic Vinod Zutshi, Secretary-Tourism, Govt. of India, reveals that India Tourism’s double-digit growth surpassed the global tourism growth rate and chalks out plans to accelerate the progress in this year.

AHANA GURUNG

Q How has 2016 been for tourism in India?
We grew faster than the world last year. If you take the figures of the pasttwo years, particularly 2016, we have been exceeding tourism’s global growth rate which is at about 4.5 per cent. The latest figures during January-November, 2016, were 78.53 lakh FTAs with a growth of 10.4 per cent as compared to the previous year. I am proud to say that we have retained the 10 per cent growth rate that we started with and feel that we are going to register almost 11 per cent growth in 2016 as compared to 4.4 per cent growth in 2015. Even Foreign Exchange Earnings (FEEs) from tourism witnessed a growth of 14.7 per cent with Rs 1,38,845 crore collected during the same period over last year.

Domestic tourism has been growing at a fast pace too. We ended 2015 with about 1.43 billion domestic tourist visits; this year we may touch around 1.65-1.7 billion, which will be the highest number so far. Similarly, domestic tourism’s growth rate is expected to touch 60-70 per cent over 30-40 per cent in 2015.

Q What are some of the amendments in e-visa?
Thanks to the persistent efforts by respective people, the e-visa has been highly successful. During January to November, 2016, a total of 9,17,446 tourists arrived on e-Tourist Visa as compared to 2015, registering a growth of 168.5 per cent. We started with 30-40 countries and today we have 161 in total. The demands that were raised by the travel trade on various platforms have been implemented as well.

As per the Cabinet meeting on November 30, the government has approved the e-visa for medical and business, along with the existing tourist visa. For the first time in this country, medical visa is going the electronic way and so is the case with business visa. This has been one of the biggest landmark decisions, and it’s going to catapult Indian tourism into a new orbit.

The best thing is that the e-visa application period, which used to be 30 days, has been extended to 120 days, which will be more convenient for foreigners who plan their travel much in advance. The validity was just 30 days and now, it has been increased to 60 days. Also, when tourists come to India, they would like to visit other countries of South East Asia and come back so we have made a double entry for e-tourist and e-business visa. For e-medical visa, triple entry has been provided and is a redeeming feature. Film visa has also been streamlined and rationalised which has come at the right time and will encourage film tourism.

Q How far has infrastructure and tourist circuit development progressed?
Over the past two years, we have sanctioned a total of 49 projects worth` 4162.99 crore under Swadesh Darshanwhich have been taken up by the states. We have also increased the sites in the PRASAD scheme and added eight more for development in West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat,Kerala, Maharashtra, and two in Uttar Pradesh for which projects are being sanctioned. 2016 is one of the unique years where we have spent funds worth a year’s work, in the first six months of the year. We plan to double that amount this year so that development of tourism is consistent and ongoing.

Q What steps are you taking to ensure that India’s diversity is portrayed in promotions?
After a brief hiatus, we are back in domestic marketing and have picked up various themes representing different states. Presently, we are running creatives on Indian heritage and have selected 36 monuments for it. We are also going to pick out more themes which will cut across all the states. With a focus on Jammu & Kashmir and the North East themes, we are on a spree of making films — various international channels have made eight documentary films for us on the NE, one on each state. Another five films are being planned to promote MICE, adventure and medical segments.

Q How is MOT addressing the issue of visibility?
Visibility has always been of importance to us and we have always sought out different ways to make ourselves more prominent. The media campaign we have launched is unprecedented. We have reached out to various news houses and travel channels and are about to launch the second phase of the media plan in January. It will run for the next six months so that there is a continuity of our visibility in national and international media.

Tourism Benchmarks
Tourist helpline and SMS-based campaign has received over 4000 queries and 3.5 crore SMSes in a year of its launch
MOT had set a pavilion and a session on tourism at PravasiBharatiyaDiwas from January 7-9 in Bengaluru
First meeting of adventure task force was held on Dec 21, 2016, and plans to organise the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s (ATTA) convention

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