18th November 2008
Dear Mr. Najeeb,
Thankyou for giving the members of KTM an opportunity to address political decision makers with some of the challenges we see for the Keralan and Indian tourist industry. A key challenge is to address the issue of tourists visas. Our experience of tourist visas has been uniformly poor: delays, issues with paperwork and uncertainty about the process. Visa offices and the new outsourced visa issuing process is capricious, the behaviour of staff is officious and thoroughly unwelcoming and seemingly random issues with paperwork is grounds for refusal of visa. At a time when so many countries offer visa on arrival, there can be no requirement for the pre-issuing of visas.
We are aware of many visitors who are choosing against India simply on the grounds of visa problems. With Thailand and Sri Lanka so close, why bother with the problem of a visa with the requirement to send off passports. I know Britain makes it very difficult for Indians to travel to the UK but that's no reason to put off the British from coming to India to spend their money. I don't understand why the UK makes it so difficult (especially with our close relationship in the past), maybe they are not interested in Indian tourism which is foolish as you have one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
In the UK last minute bookings are now 60% of our bookings, why don't the government allow people to fill out a card on the plane as is the case with the US. Enabling last minute booking and providing a seemless visa service are future prerequisites for growth in tourism in India.
On a connected, but separate note, Kerala can demonstrate its commitment to a new experience by addressing the passport control situation at Cochin Airport. Things have come to a pretty pass when it is easier to enter India through Mumbai than Cochin. On arrival, passengers should enter a single queue for passport control and there should be customer service teams available to guide and advise visitors. Staff should be trained to expedite the process and a training in “smiling and welcoming” should be imposed so that visitors first welcome should be friendly. Similarly departing passengers should not be required to queue repeatedly to leave the country. A straightforward and managed process for passing through customs, passport control and security should be designed and implemented.