UK travellers, a significant source market, have a dilemma in that they are unable to get e-visas for India and must postpone scheduling appointments before the Christmas rush. According to tour operators, travel agencies, and industry organisations servicing UK travellers, visa troubles remain despite several interventions and requests. Homa Mistry, the CEO of Trail Blazer Tours India, concurs with his coworkers’ concerns about the inbound Indian tourist industry.
He said, “We have been getting cancellations. Since these tours are planned months in advance, we have booked domestic flights for these UK travellers. We have paid for excursions such as safaris to Ranthambore and Bandhavgarh. A lot of these cancellations are non-refundable. We keep listening through the grapevine that something would happen this week or next week, but nothing happens. We are hoping for some relief so that we are able to save the tourist season that lies ahead of us till March.”
Far Horizon Tours India’s co-founder and chairman, Sanjay Basu, agreed. He said, “There is a lot of angst in the market about e-visas not being restored. There is a backlash from clients. They have cancelled trips to India, and they have done this in anger. A lot of operators in the UK have lost a lot of business, and for them, India is becoming a liability. The short-term impact of this is pretty major.”
Basu said, “But, even in the medium term, with both end consumers and tour operators getting upset, there would be some longevity to this problem”.
This happened at a time when the industry had been hoping to recover after the pandemic ravaged it. According to Basu, who is also a member of the CII’s national tourism committee, “the entire industry suffered the most for over two years and continues to suffer. The government is putting the industry in jeopardy by not restoring e-visas. We look like an unwelcoming country in the post-pandemic world.”
Despite several interventions and requests, visa complications still exist, according to tour operators, travel agencies, and industry organisations that cater to tourists from the UK.
Rajiv Mehra, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), stated: “After our representation, there was a statement from the High Commission of India in the UK that it recognises the challenges and is committed to improving its delivery of visa services, but travellers are still facing the same issues”.
“As per information received by us, VFS centres in London-Goswell, Edinburgh, and Birmingham have no appointments till December,” he said.
Travellers from the UK are being advised by tour companies not to schedule any excursions to India until they get their visas.
“Prior to the pandemic, e-visas were available for the UK, but they haven’t been restored. E-visas exist for the US,” Mehra said. “The only solution is the e-tourist visa. We thought it might come through, but nothing has happened. We are hearing from Indian cruise liner operators that 75-80% of their business coming in from the UK is gone.”
The government has promised a quick resolution, but the backlog is “massive,” according to Jyoti Mayal, head of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI), and the delays will affect inbound visitor flows until January. She added, “The tourists have cancelled themselves as everyone knows that no visas are available for two months”.
On October 7, the IATO said that it has sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting his intervention in order to hasten the resumption of e-visas for the UK, Canada, and other nations from whom the majority of visitors arrive in India.
In a video message on October 12, India’s High Commissioner to the UK, Vikram Doraiswami, said that more slots will be made available through the online booking facility as the high commission increased capacity in collaboration with service provider VFS. Along with expanding capacity at current centres, Doraiswami also stated that additional visa application centres will open in Glasgow and central London.
According to a VFS Global representative, the business is collaborating with the Indian High Commission in London to try its very best to resolve the issue. Trinetra Tours‘ managing director, Tapas Banerjee, claims that some of his clients who made reservations for February won’t be able to schedule their visa appointments until December.
He said, “I am pleading with the clients and telling them not to cancel but if they don’t get visas, how will they travel? We got to hear from industry insiders that the Indian government will restore e-visas, but that hasn’t happened”.
“If we don’t remove impediments, it will be difficult to boost tourism. We have to facilitate their entry because this is leading to massive cancellations. So many countries offer visas on arrival to UK travellers. If India drops off the radar, it might be difficult to come back.” he added.