Battling rising current account deficit, government is looking at ways to encourage tourist inflow particularly from the West to garner foreign exchange and steps may be taken to ease visa regime. Taking an initiative in this direction, the Planning Commission has called a joint meeting of Home Ministry, External Affairs Ministry, Tourism Ministry and National Security Advisor in the first week of October.
During the meeting, the officials would discuss the issues related to tourist visas and ways to improve access to that for encouraging foreigners to choose India for holidaying. "We have called a meeting in October to discuss issues related to tourist visa for India. We are expecting Tourism Ministry, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman and other senior officials from concerned ministries to attend the meeting," Planning Minister Rajeev Shukla told PTI.
The current account deficit is the difference between inflow and outflow of foreign exchange. During the 2012-13, the CAD was at all time high of 4.8% of GDP or USD 88.2 billion. Government proposes to bring it down to USD 70 billion or 3.8% of the GDP. "Tourism Ministry has flagged strict tourist visa regime as impediment in the growth of foreign visitors in the country which ultimately results is lesser foreign exchange earnings," he added.
According to Shukla, the tourism potential of India could not be exploited due to strict tourist visa regime and the country has everything including beaches, backwaters, snow, desert and different weathers, which attract foreign tourists. Shukla said that restoring India's foreign missions' flexibility in granting tourist visa would further help in attracting more visitors which would result in bridging CAD.
According to the minister, the officials would also deliberate on increasing the tourist visa on arrival regime with other countries to boost the sector.
Under the visa on arrival system, India has agreement with different countries, including Japan, Finland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos and Myanmar.
According to the minister, India's visa regime has deflected foreign tourists from the US, Canada and Europe to Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal.
During January to July this year, as many as 38,31,715 foreign tourists visited India which is 3.3% higher than the 37,09,906 in the corresponding period of 2012. The growth in the influx of foreign tourist during January to July in 2012 was 6.1% as 34,97,003 foreign national visited India during the seven-month period in 2011.
According to the data available, the foreign exchange earning grew by 14.2% during January-July this year at Rs 59,573 crore from Rs 52,149 crore in the same period last year. However the foreign exchange earning grew at 23.3 per cent in the seven-month period in 2012, compared to Rs 42,279 crore in the same period in 2011.