At least £10m of India bookings at risk after sudden visa rule change

By Linsey McNeill
Home » At least £10m of India bookings at risk after sudden visa rule change

Specialist tour operators are warning they stand to lose £10m of bookings to India after the country suddenly changed its visa rules.

Visitors can no longer apply using specialist visa courier firms, instead they must go in person to one of nine processing centres in the UK.

Unfortunately, the current wait time for an appointment, according to courier firm CIBTvisas, is about eight weeks.

AITO said its members alone stand to lose £10m of bookings from about 1,500 holidaymakers who won’t be able to get visas in time for their trips.

It has called for an urgent meeting with the Indian High Commissioner, with a view to getting the visa system reinstated asap.

Head of Commercial Bharat Gadhoke said: “The actions taken by the Indian authorities to change its visa rules are both sad and extremely disruptive.”

He said visa applications submitted via specialist companies have been cancelled and even those that were in the middle of being processed have been returned, unfulfilled.

“The reasons have not, unfortunately, been explained – an explanation would at least go some way to helping tour operators to understand this drastic action,” he added.

“What is clear is that the collateral damage is going to be felt by the keen tourists who have long looked forward to visiting this diverse country, some having delayed their travel plans for two years or more.” 

Citizens of 156 countries are allowed to use India’s e-visa application system but this doesn’t include the UK and other countries such as Algeria, Burkina Faso, Lebanon and Pakistan

Until this week British visitors could still apply for a paper visa by post or, if they wanted to speed up their application, using a specialist visa courier company.

However, the Indian Government announced without warning that visitors from the UK will only be granted a visa after attending a face-to-face appointment.

Charlotte Lawton from Steppes Travel told The Times that she attended the Hounslow visa application centre this week, where the wait for those with appointments was between two and four hours.

Amrit Singh, owner of Trans Indus, said:  “A poll solely of AITO’s operators to India reveals £10M of bookings at risk, with around 1,500 holidaymakers affected.   

“Many are due to depart in the coming weeks; not having a visa means they will be forced to cancel, which is very upsetting for our customers who were looking forward to their long-awaited trips to the subcontinent.” 

In a letter to the India High Commission, Bharat warned that the hurdles to obtaining visas could have a devastating effect, both here and in India.

He said: “AITO members will be forced to refund customers in full, which in turn will have a grievous impact on (a) Indian suppliers and partners (many of which are small businesses); (b) support to the remote and rural economies in India; plus (c) the vital wildlife conservation programmes that benefit from tourism to India.”

He said AITO members have been forced to stop accepting bookings to India for the rest of this year and all marketing efforts have ceased. 

“The reputational damage to India as a tourism destination is likely to be huge.  If AITO companies, and many others, are forced to invest in alternative destinations for the remainder of this year, they may not have the capacity to enable them to return to selling India in the future,” he added.

“The visa situation was already very difficult but was being managed by using the visa courier companies.

“The arbitrary cancellation of all of visa services has had a disastrous effect; a sizeable number of customers face having their holidays cancelled at short notice. Travel companies, who have been hugely supportive of India, face mass cancellations, and will have to refund their customers in full – something which, post-pandemic, they simply cannot easily afford to do.

“We were completely reliant on the courier services to ensure our customers were able to secure visas to travel to India.  As a matter of utmost urgency, we request that an immediate travel industry channel is opened to facilitate all visa requests departing in October, November and December.”

He said AITO members alone have 400 clients due to travel to India before the end of this year who have not yet secured a visa.

“In the medium term, we need either far more appointments to be opened, the re-instatement of the courier system or (ideally) the re-opening of the E-visa to system for those UK nationals booked on licensed package holidays,” he added.

“Our primary request is the opening of a channel solely for the travel industry to secure visas for their paying customers.

“We also seek an urgent meeting with His Excellency, the High Commissioner, and his team to discuss how we can work together to bring about a workable longer-term solution.”

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