What happens when you make it hard for tourists to travel freely in and out of your country? They don’t come. That’s the lesson India seemed finally to have learned on Tuesday when it changed its visa policies to remove its cumbersome 60-day gap rule.
Previously, tourists who visited India and then wanted to, say, hop over to Nepal for some trekking would have to wait two months before returning to India. Such restrictions complicated regional travel and deterred many visitors from coming in the first place. Having realized that these rules were hurting India’s tourism industry, the home ministry said Tuesday it had decided “to lift the restriction of the two-month gap on re-entry of foreign nationals coming to India” on a tourist visa, adding that the rule change came about from a government review.
The 60-day gap, however, will still apply to visitors from several nations like neighboring China, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
India tightened its visa rules after the November 2008 attacks in Mumbai, which killed 166 people. The government found that Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist David Headley had “grossly misused” his multiple-entry visa to make nine trips to India and prepare footage of targets.
In the wake of that tragedy, the government hoped to monitor the movement of people in and out of the country better, but the rules also affected ordinary tourists who were forced to sit down with immigration officers and provide detailed itineraries of where they planned to go in order to receive a waiver from the two-month rule.
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Shri K. Chiranjeevi, union minister for tourism, welcomed the home ministry's decision, saying it “addressed a long-pending demand of the travel industry and would facilitate tourists visiting the country.”
The tourism ministry, which asked the Prime Minister’s Office to review the visa policy in January, has a target of increasing India’s share of global tourism arrivals from 0.64 percent to 1 percent. Chiranjeevi said the visa relaxation would help “contribute to a large extent in achieving this target.”
According to the ministry’s latest figures, India received 3.24 million foreign tourists in the first half of 2012, earning the country $7.9 billion. Some 6.29 million foreign tourists arrived last year, bringing in some $16.5 billion.
Now that tourists can use India as a hub while visiting other South Asian countries, officials are optimistic that numbers will be much higher in 2013.