India’s visa-free policy lures Myanmar tourists

Myanmar travellers to India increased by more than 10 percent in 2017 compared to 2016, apparently boosted by India’s new visa-free policy for all Myanmar visitors starting in September 2017.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the free visas for all Myanmar citizens during a visit to Myanmar last September 6.

“More than 10pc growth was recorded since visa-free travel began,” Rashmi Verma secretary of India’s Ministry of Tourism said on Monday. “Most visitors from Myanmar are going to Bodh Gaya.”

About 30,000 Myanmar pilgrims visit the annual Bodh Gaya festival, but in 2017 more than 50,000 pilgrims went to India, according to the ministry.

“The number 50,000 is not really large, but we see a lot of potential as electronic visa and free visas are easy to get,” Rashmi said. “Better air and land connections between the two countries will also increase traffic between India and Myanmar.”

There is also an opportunity for India’s northeastern region, which is close to Myanmar, and the land route border crossing is likely to open in two places to allow Myanmar travellers to visit, she said.

The embassy of India in Yangon and India’s Ministry of Tourism held a tourism promotion event in Myanmar for the first time and brought delegations to meet with Myanmar travel and tour companies on Monday in Yangon.

“This is a good opportunity for the people between the two countries to engage with each other and look at the business opportunities for sending tourists from Myanmar to India or India to Myanmar,” Rashimi said.

Myanmar travellers are going to India not only for the purpose of pilgrimages but also for medical tours and adventure trips to Himalayas Mountain, according to the ministry.

“Medical tourism from Myanmar is not very large at the moment but the potential is huge. Also we are looking forward to Myanmar young people who are showing a lot of interesting in Himalayas adventure tourism activities,” Rashmi said.

According to the ministry, around 60,000 visitors from India visited Myanmar last year.

“Indian people are travelling a lot and the country has huge population. A lot of people are going to Singapore and Thailand so I’m sure Myanmar can be equally very interesting for Indian people. Also, we want everybody in India to see other things,” said Meenakshi Sharma, director general of the ministry.

Myanmar travellers can apply for free visas at the consulate in Mandalay and the Indian embassy in Yangon.

The embassy in Yangon processes up to 200 visa applications daily for tour companies and up to 50 applications for individuals.

Due to limited visa processing capability in Yangon, it gets overwhelmed when demand is high, especially during the peak season. That is why pilgrimage tour company want the embassy in Yangon to increase its capacity, U Naung Naung Han, secretary general of the Union of Myanmar Travel Associations, said.

“The embassy in Yangon can issue only 30,000 visas a year, and it is limited to 250 visa application a day. The consulate in Mandalay grants more than 20,000 visas. If they want 100,000 people, they have to upgrade the capacity to 500 visa application a day in Yangon,” he said.

The processing of visas takes from three days to a week in Yangon while the Mandalay consulate can issue visas in a day. The Yangon-based tour companies usually drive to Mandalay consulate when the quota of visa applications runs out in Yangon, he said.

When demand is high in peak season, each tour company staff wait in front of the embassy as early as 4am to get the ticket for a visa application, he added.

“Why does the embassy in Yangon have a longer processing period while the processing at Mandalay consulate can be done within a day? Some travel companies cancel their bookings due to visa difficulties for customers sometimes, cutting their revenue by more than US$10,000 (K13.39 million). So we asked the ambassador to hear our concerns about visa processing issues,” U Naung Naung Han said.

India’s free visa for Myanmar pilgrimages is not new. The South Asian country already granted gratis visa for pilgrimages travellers since 1998, in recognition of the friendship between the two countries. But the process of gratis visa application takes 40 days.

Source: Myanmar Times

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