Although blessed by a wide range of attractions, both manmade and natural, India has not been able to fully realise its tourism potential inherent in leisure, medical and religious traffic inflow.
Of course, India has transited to the cyber age in the cutting down of some of the cumbersome paperwork. While a recently launched electronic visa system for foreign tourists, expediting visa issuance, is a step in the right direction, there are other irritants that act as impediments.
‘One of the major improvements is our e-visa system, which simplifies and expedites the issue of tourist visa for foreigners travelling to India. India has overhauled its visa system, making it possible to get a visa in the shortest span of time by eliminating unnecessary paperwork,’ said Suman Billa, the joint secretary in the Indian Ministry of Tourism, who made a pitch at a recent road show in New York.
Indian travel agents and tour operators present at the roadshow in New York, however, privately told TTN that the Indian Government had been mulling the issue of a long-term multiple entry comprehensive visa by merging tourists, business, medical and conference visa into one to attract more visitors and boost trade and tourism.
India’s home ministry is said to be working on the proposal; the plan is part of the commerce ministry’s initiatives to boost India’s services trade. India is said to be missing out on a huge opportunity worth about $80 billion annually in terms of attracting foreigner tourists and foreign exchange.
Recognising the money-spinning potential of medical tourism – the medical tourism segment alone generates an estimated $3 billion and is projected to grow to $7-8 billion by 2020 – the Indian Government is aggressively promoting this segment. Foreign patients travelling to India for medical treatment in 2012, 2013 and 2014 stood at 171,021, 236,898, and 184,298, respectively. However, some experts say that smaller countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore attract higher number of tourist, including those coming for medical reasons, than India.
Nevertheless, the number of foreign tourists visiting India are expected to rise; during the January-September 2015 period, foreign exchange earnings rose to $19.7 billion, up from $15 billion in the year-earlier corresponding period.
The World Travel and Tourism Council forecasts that India’s tourism sector would grow at an annual growth rate of 7 per cent over the next ten years.
‘Medical tourism is getting popular because of the low costs of treatment supported by first-class doctors and modern hospitals. Besides, there is hardly any waiting time involved,’ Billa claimed. The government has set a target of 10 per cent growth of medical tourism for 2016, and is finally helping to promote the country as a destination for medical tourism.
Billa noted that India’s Tourism Ministry was partnering with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) to stage the Global Travel Mart (GTM) in Delhi from February 1 to 4, 2017. The GTM will not only highlight India as a promising future destination but will also provide opportunities for partnership between Indian and foreign travel and tour operators. Billa said that the challenge lay in ‘communicating about the wide range of products’ that India offers, manifested in the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas, the beauty of Kashmir, the Golf courses in several cities, the monuments, temples and cultural and historic landmarks.