India and Pakistan authorities to discuss tourism issues

23 May 2012  696 | World Travel Fairs

ISLAMABAD (eTN) - Home secretaries from Indian and Pakistan are to meet on May 24 and 25 in Islamabad to resolve many issues such as visa policies. The two countries are expected to finalize modalities of soft visa processing. If it happens, it will be a new era for tourism between the neighboring countries.

Indian media claim that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's cabinet has already approved the new tourist visa scheme that will allow Pakistani applicants to travel in groups in India, while the Pakistan cabinet reciprocated by approving it last week. The new regime will be operational once the agreement is signed.

According to the blueprint of new visa regime, government-approved tour operators would be allowed to organize group travels comprising 10 to 50 tourists and the travel agents will have to provide a complete list of the tourists with up-to-date information on their backgrounds and itinerary. This will have to be submitted to the respective government 45 days before the date of travel.

The two countries will exchange the list of operators, routes and destinations from time to time. Entry and exit points as well as the mode of travel norms will also be relaxed for such travelers.  The non-extendable tourist visas would be valid for up to 30 days.

Currently, India and Pakistan issue visas to its citizens for religious visits, meeting relatives, conferences and for special events like cricket matches but not for tourism.  Apart from common citizens, the intelligentsia of both countries had always complained about the strict visa rules and procedures.

Agenda of the meeting between the home secretaries also include the possibility that  students of the educational institutes would be eligible to apply for this visa, but it wouldn't be valid for seeking admission in institutions.

The new recommendation also proposes a six-month visa for social visits and a one-year visa with multiple entries for senior citizens, eminent persons, women of one country married to men in the other country and their children aged below 18.  At present, a maximum of three weeks is allowed for social visits. Besides visa on arrival (single entry) will be given to citizens above 65 years at the Attari-Wagah border post for those who traveling by road. This will be valid for 45 days-non-extendable and nonconvertible.

The agreement is expected to provide extensive relaxation to business travelers. This includes multiple entries, freedom to travel to five cities and withdrawal of the rule that requires visitors to report to the local police station.

Experts agree that if such visa regime is announced, it will create a market of around 500 million $ a year for each country, creating a scenario where around one billion $ tourism revenue will generate between the both countries. This is more benefit both side of Punjabs--- eastern Punjab of India and Western Punjab of Pakistan because Wagha border will be hub of such tourism activities, generating indirect revenue for Amartsar and Lahore.

Sourced:e TN Global Travel