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E-visas to boost inbound tourism by 15% initially: Madhavan Menon, Thomas Cook India

The Economic Times:  April, 2014

The government's decision to introduce the electronic visa facility (e-Visa) will give a muchneeded boost to inbound travel in India. In an e-mail interview with ET, Madhavan Menon, managing director of travel firm Thomas Cook India, says that any delay in implementation of the facility may yield results only in the next tourist season, starting November. He also calls for relaxing taxes on tourism products and services. Edited excerpts:

How will e-Visa or electronic travel authorisation boost inbound tourism in India?

Introduction of electronic travel authorisation (ETA) is indeed welcome as it is vital towards building critical mass-momentum and infusing much-needed demand into the under-leveraged inbound sector.

Destination India has tremendous latent potential, which the authorisation will help tap.

As per a joint study by UNWTO and WTTC in 2012, India will benefit with an additional six million travelers and 1.8 million new jobs over a period of three years by easing visa restrictions, thus significantly boosting the economy.

It will also drive success for businesses connected directly or indirectly with the tourism industry. Implementing the ETA for multiple entry visas with longer duration stays will increase its efficiency and appeal.

While the order has been passed by the government when is the e-Visa facility expected to be implemented?

As per current industry dialogues, the e-visa facility is slated to be implemented this year.

Will a delay in implementation of this facility affect the inbound tourism potential in the country?

Enforcing the ETA before the next tourism season, which starts in November, will have a positive impact on inbound traffic and make India a more viable destination. Despite the inbound market operating with planning windows of at least one-two years prior season, we anticipate that ETA implementation (before the upcoming tourist season) will result in a clear jump of at least 15%, and this is only the start. However, a delay in implementation may push back the positive results of such a facility into the next season. There are also concerns about biometrics being included in the e-Visa process.

What are the challenges facing the travel and tourism industry?

Given that the travel and tourism industry is one of the key employers and contributors to the exchequer, the industry is handicapped today. Be it multiple taxation or varying tax levels imposed by state governments, the inbound business into India is rendered both expensive and challenging.

What are the major areas in tourism where government intervention is needed?

There is a need for more government initiatives and relaxed taxation policies on products and services. Combating negative publicity like hygiene, safety and security will be critical for Incredible India's image.