There seems to be good news and bad news for the tourism industry in Goa.
The good news is that the Indian government has decided to to ease restrictions on tourist visas that made a two-month gap between consecutive visits by foreign nationals to India mandatory. But while this is a step in the right direction, the bad news is that Goa still does not have the Visa On Arrival facility (VoA).
However, the tourism industry is hopeful that the India Government will finally heed Goa’s request to be allowed to issue Visas on Arrival (VoA).
In my many years of experience in the tourism industry, the one thing that I have found to be most effective in increasing tourist visitors to a destination is by relaxing visa rules. Obama has understood this and as a result, the procedures to get a US visa have been drastically simplified. My mother got a 10 year US visa recently and even my sister easily got a US visa.
Russia, on the other hand, still believes in making tourist visas as difficult to get. And that is one of the reasons why tourists prefer not to go to Russia.
Goa, on the other hand, has been pressing for a simplified visa procedure for quite some time now.
Nilesh Cabral, Chairman, Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC), has rightly described the decision to ease the two-month gap as a “good thing, a good step” but only the first step. Cabral said he is very happy that the Government of India has heeded the several requests from Goa government and the Goa tourism trade to ease the restriction. “Now, I hope they consider our request to enable Goa to issue VoA as that would be immensely beneficial to Goa tourism”.
And indeed it will. Travelling is difficult enough without having to go through the extra trouble of getting a visa. Thailand has understood this and offers Visas on Arrival for a number of countries. This is why Thailand is one of the most popular destinations worldwide. And the tourist numbers keep rising.
Ralph de Souza, Spokesperson, Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG), said that this will particularly help Goa to cater to the 80 per cent Finnish tourists who visit Goa. If we can issue visa on arrival in Goa, the sagging Scandinavian market will be revived. We were losing lots of British tourists who were long stayers in Goa. This segment of tourists will come back now,” Souza said.
Presently, visa on arrival is only issued in the four metros of Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. This means that presently, if tourists want to avail of VoA, they have to come via Mumbai, which adds to their cost. This also works against direct charters landing in Goa.
With the world economy down, India and Goa must try and do everything in their power to attract foreign tourists to the country. And a Visa on Arrival is one of the most effective means of doing so. The tourism industry in Goa provides livelihood to a large portion of the population and it is time that the Government did all it could to help this struggling industry.
Not only should the Visa on Arrival facilitity be made available in Goa, the number of countries that are included should also be increased. While it is understandable that there are security concerns that need to be kept in mind, a balance between security and tourism must be found.