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Foreign tourist arrivals on E-visas up 57% in Dec

Economic Times:  January, 2017

New Delhi: The inflow of foreign tourists arriving into the country through e-visas in December registered a significant 56.6% growth year on year, the ministry of tourism has said.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the ministry said 1,62,250 foreign tourists visited India on e-tourist visas last month, up from 103,617 in December 2015.

For calendar 2016, foreign tourist arrivals on e-visas more than doubled to 10,79,696 from 4,45,300 in 2015, partly because the e-visa facility was extended to 161 countries from 113 previously, the ministry said.

Overall, 8.91 lakh foreign tourists had visited the country from January to November last year, up 10.4% from a year earlier. The December number is yet to be released.

The maximum inflow of foreign visitors through e-visas last month came from the UK (22.4%), followed by the US (16.4%) and Russia (7.7%).

Tour operators and hoteliers had predicted a slump in travel and tourism following the government’s demonetisation drive in November, which prompted countries like the UK, Australia and Canada to update their travel advisories for India.

While demonetisation seems to have not much impacted tourist arrivals in the short term, Rajeev Kohli, senior VP of Indian Association of Tour Operators, said it has damaged the country’s reputation in the long term.

“The move has upset the foreign tourist operators and has impacted our credibility severely. All the international travellers in the country in the last two months saw very little support coming to them and have gone back with negative stories about the destination,” he said. “We are not questioning the numbers. We are questioning the harm it has done to the reputation,” Kohli said.

He said e-visa figures mainly reflects people shifting from applying for visa at an embassy to online. “When the ministry’s figures of increase (of overall tourist arrivals) are single digits (it was 9.3% in November 2016) you can’t co-relate that with the double digit growth in the e-visa system,” he said.

Rakshit Desai, managing director at FCM Travel Solutions, said Indian travel itineraries involve a long gestation period of travel, and that bookings for December would have been done about three months in advance. “Most tourists come through operators, so the bulk of the trips are paid in advance,” he said.

Desai said e-visas have helped accelerate an upward trend in inbound travel and that demonetisation may not impact it much. “India’s bigger problem tends to be around security perceptions as opposed to economic issues,” he said.