Gulf states woo Indian tourists with visa on arrival schemes, relaxed norms

In August, Qatar, which is facing a blockade from its neighbouring countries, announced visa-free entry for citizens of 80 countries, including India
The oil-rich Gulf states are luring Indian visitors with easier visas to boost tourism.

Last week, Oman announced a visa on arrival scheme for Indian citizens holding valid US/UK/ Schengen/Canada visas.  United Arab Emirates (UAE) eased visa rules for Indians in September.  In August, Qatar which is facing a blockade from its neighbouring countries, announced visa-free entry for citizens of 80 countries, including India.

The move to boost tourism comes as these countries look to diversify their economies amid a decline in crude oil prices. 

The fee for visa on arrival in Oman is 20 rials (around Rs 3,400) which is the same as a normal visa (the latter costs more as there is a processing fee too) and will encourage more weekend trips and transit halts at Muscat.

“Countries which have strong immigration and border control systems are making visas simpler for Indians to attract more and more last minute travellers. They understand that Indian travellers are late planners and prefer destinations where visa process is faster and simpler,” said Guldeep Singh Sahni, president, Outbound Tour Operators Association of India. 

Last November, Thailand, another popular destination, halved fee for visa on arrival for Indians and others. Earlier in the year, UAE announced visa on arrival for Indians with US visas and relaxation was extended in September to holders of UK and European residency visas.

“Indians are taking extended weekend breaks and the Gulf destinations are ideal for short holidays ranging from three to five nights. The visa on arrival has to lead to a five to seven per cent increase in the number of Indians travelling to Dubai,” said Karan Anand, head-relationships, Cox & Kings.

“India is one of the key markets for Oman and we are certain that this proactive initiative by the government will drive a lot of footfalls,” said Lubaina Sheerazi, India representative of the ministry of tourism, Oman. In the past five years, Oman has witnessed 82 per cent growth in Indian arrivals and in 2016, it received nearly 300,000 Indian tourists. 

Also airlines are increasing flights, giving incentives to agents and offering discounted fares to boost growth. Oman Air has added flights to Delhi, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Mumbai, said airline's regional vice president Sunil V A. IndiGo launched services to Doha this year.

According to Saahil Lalit, associate director (hospitality), Colliers International, (Middle East & North Africa), India has consolidated it's position as a top source market in Oman and UAE in the last few years. An interesting element of this growth is also the shift in travel motivation as the traditional corporate and visiting friends and relatives segment are giving way to a growing leisure segment which brings more revenue to the tourism value chain of the destinations, Lalit said. 

Sheerazi added that Oman is becoming a preferred destination for weddings and meeting and incentive tours and the country's mountains, beaches and desert is attracting adventure lovers too.

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