New Delhi, Sept. 20: The Centre has cut down the time for processing visas of the crew of chartered planes from five weeks to 72 hours with an eye on such flights landing in Goa with tourists from Russia and Israel.
With the tourist season in Goa beginning from October 15, the Centre has also decided to start the visa-on-arrival facility at the airport there from next month.
At least 900-1,000 chartered flights are expected to land in Goa in the tourist season. Industry insiders said there was an annual increase of 15-20 per cent in the number of such flights in the past few years. Last year, however, there was a fall because of rising fuel costs and recession.
Each chartered flight ferries between 250 and 300 passengers. Sources said tour operators join hands to hire such flights, which charge lower fares than regular ones and offer a full tour package that includes hotel reservations and local sightseeing.
These flights mostly originate from Russia and Israel. The main traffic is for Goa, though a few head to Kerala too. For the Indian tourism industry, chartered flights are important because they bring tourists in bulk.
This year, close to 1.5 lakh tourists are expected to arrive in Goa by chartered flights alone.
“The visa rules were complicated and it took very long for visas to be processed. People had to apply well in advance. This means that a chartered flight cannot replace their crew at short notice,” Sarabjeet Singh, the vice- president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, said.
Several tour operators and industry stakeholders had raised the issue at a July 30 meeting with Pulok Chatterjee, the principal secretary to the PMO. After that, the PMO directed the home ministry to consider easing visa rules, sources said.
On September 4, the home ministry issued a circular saying business visas for crew members of chartered flights would have to be processed within three days of application.
This holds good for all countries except Afghanistan, China, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka and foreign nationals of Pakistani origin.
In case of nationals from these countries, visas have to be cleared in 30 days.
This is the third time the home ministry is easing visa procedures.
First, it waived the compulsory 60-day period a person with a tourist visa would have to wait before re-visiting the country. This was in December last year.
Second, the ministry extended the visa-on-arrival facility from four to 11 airports in the country. At first, the facility was available only in the New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Calcutta airports.
Now it has been extended to Amritsar, Kozhikode, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Kochi, Bangalore and Thiruvananthapuram.
Goa airport will become the twelfth airport to offer visas on arrival from October.
Disembarkation cards have also been simplified and tourists availing themselves of the visa-on-arrival facility are allowed to pay visa fees by credit card.
In 2012, only 4.5 lakh foreign tourists visited Goa of the total of 2 crore that landed in the country. India registered only a marginal increase of 6 per cent in foreign tourist inflow.