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India may give visa on arrival to tourists

Tourism Minister Ambika Soni said that India had targeted an annual 25 per cent growth to facilitate over 10 million arrivals by 2012.

india Updated: Jun 29, 2006 18:35 IST

Desperate to sell India as a 365-day destination, the government is thinking of issuing visa on arrival to tourists from around the world.

Tourism Minister Ambika Soni said on Thursday that India had targeted an annual 25 per cent growth to facilitate over 10 million arrivals by 2012.

India currently receives around 3.5 million overseas visitors.

Some of the alternatives like visa on arrival, long-term visa, multiple entry visas are being examined with the ministries of home and external affairs, given India's concerns on security issues, Soni said.

Scheduled to meet Home Minister Shivraj Patil on Friday, Soni said she was hopeful of some alternate arrangements to ease visa hurdles.

"We are talking to the home ministry, the external affairs ministry and the civil aviation ministry to resolve some of the issues; otherwise we cannot sell India as a 365-day destination," Soni said.

Speaking to representatives from overseas Indian tourism marketing offices and travel and tourism experts, the minister shared their concerns that visa and civil aviation hurdles were the major obstacles in meeting goals.

"While there are security concerns, we are keen to explore with the home ministry the alternatives of issuing long-term, multiple entry and visa-on-arrival to ease and facilitate foreign tourist inflow," she said.

"We are also looking at possibilities of introducing electronic visas and on an experimental basis hope to have visa-on-arrival in case of tourists from certain countries. If we are looking at growth, we need to have faster clearances on arrival."

The minister, however, did not identify the countries under consideration.

In the case of Pakistan, she pointed out that Pakistani visitors were put to a lot of inconvenience at the Wagah-Attari border in Punjab with clearances taking up to four hours on some days.

"Our plan is to develop Wagah-Attari as a tourist destination and improve clearance facilities. By year-end we hope to have the infrastructure ready," she said.

During the two-day interactive meet, the tourism ministry is hopeful of finalising a game plan for a more aggressive marketing strategy through the 13 overseas tourism-marketing offices as well as undertaking a review of their performances.

Hinting at more accountability, the minister told representatives from the overseas Indian tourism offices that they would have to justify their operations in particular markets. The ministry is under pressure to cut expenses.

The review comes at a time when the ministry is looking at new markets like Russia, China and Thailand besides Scandinavian and Latin American countries to open three more tourism promotion offices.

The tourism ministry is keen that overseas offices cash in on the growing interest in India by highlighting multifaceted holiday options and provide faster visas.