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Tourism in India : a revolutionary destination

Despite an underdeveloped tourism infrastructure, India has managed to multiply by 4 its number of foreign visitors over the past two decades. Thanks to numerous natural and cultural resources, a fast-growing medical tourism activity and a simplification of administrative travelling procedures, India’s tourism sector is expected to increase exponentially to become one of the nation’s biggest economic strength by 2030.

Incredible India

Concerted efforts are being made by the Ministry of Tourism and other stakeholders to promote new forms of tourism such as rural, cruise, medical and ecotourism. Amongst these efforts, former Joint Secretary under the Union Ministry of Tourism Amitabh Kant launched an international tourism campaign in 2002: Incredible India.

The campaign projects India as an attractive tourist destination by showcasing different aspects of Indian culture and history like yoga, spirituality, gastronomy and so on. The campaign has been conducted globally since then, but also extended to domesctic tourism in 2009, and received appreciation from tourism industry observers and travellers alike.

Medical tourism

India’s medical tourism sector is one of the county’s most important growth factor, closely linked to its pharmaceutical industry, the nation’s 2nd economic strength. It has become a much widespread practice around the country, which now counts seven main medical tourism companies.

Thanks to the removal of a two-month gap restriction between two consecutive visits for people from Gulf countries and the simplification of administrative travelling procedures, Indian medical tourism is expected to boom to be worth $8 billion by 2020 (against $3 billion today).

The Medical Tourism Market Report: 2015 considered India as “one of the lowest cost and highest quality of all medical tourism destinations, offering wide variety of procedures at about one-tenth the cost of similar procedures in the United States.”

Natural and cultural resources

As the 9th world’s richest country regarding natural and cultural resources, India features 36 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, along with numerous national parks and state protected monuments and areas.

World Heritage Sites

  • Kaziranga
  • Manas Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Mahabodhi Temple Complex
  • Humayun’s Tomb,
  • Qutb Minar Monuments
  • Red Fort Complex
  • Goa’s Churches and Convents
  • Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park
  • Hampi’s Monuments
  • Pattadakal Monuments
  • Sanchi’s Buddhist Monuments
  • Bhimbetka’s Rock Shelters
  • Khajuraho’s Monuments,
  • Ajanta Caves
  • Ellora Caves
  • Elephanta Caves
  • Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus)
  • Konârak’s Sun Temple,
  • Keoladeo National Park
  • Jantar Mantar
  • Great Living Chola Temples
  • Mahabalipuram’s Monuments
  • Agra Fort
  • Fatehpur Sikri,
  • Taj Mahal
  • Mountain Railways of India
  • Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks
  • Sundarbans National Park
  • Western Ghats
  • Hill Forts of Rajasthan
  • Rani ki vav (The Queen’s Stepwell)
  • Great Himalayan National Park
  • Nalanda
  • Khangchendzonga National Park
  • The Architectural Work Of Le Corbusier
  • Historic City of Ahmadabad

National parks

India established its first national park in 1936, the Jim Corbett National Park, formerly known as Hailey National Park. By 1970, only four more national parks were established. It was not until the 70s that India started stregthening protections for wildlife, first with the Wildlife Protection Act and Project Tiger in 1972, then with further legislations in the 80s, increasing the number of national parks to more than a hundred sites. Plans are still underway to create many more.

Protected areas

Protected areas of India cover 156,700 km², which represents around 5% of country’s surface. They are categorised as such:

  • National Parks (103)
  • Wildlife sanctuaries: over 500 animal sanctuaries, including the 50 Tiger Reserves, governed by Project Tiger
  • Biosphere reserves (18)
  • Reserved and protected forests
  • Conservation reserves and community reserves
  • Private protected areas
  • Conservation areas

Each state is also responsible for numerous protected monuments.

Visa policy

India requires citizens of most countries to be in possession of a valid passport and visa, excluding nationals of Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal. Other countries are exempted from visa fee. These are:

  • Afghanistan
  • Argentina
  • Bangladesh
  • North Korea
  • Jamaica
  • Mauritius
  • Mongolia
  • Nepal
  • South Africa
  • Uruguay

E-tourist visa (Electronic Travel Authorisation )

In order to boost tourism, the Indian Government implemented a new visa policy aiming at simplifying administrative procedures in November 2014: the Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) facility, further renamed e-Tourist Visa in order to avoid confusion.
This facility allows tourists and business visitors to apply online for an e-Tourist Visa on a secure Government of India website, 4 to 30 days before the date of travel, in order to obtain their official Visa on arrival at 16 designated international airports in the country, without having to visit an Indian consulate or visa centre. The ETA allows visa holders to enter and stay anywhere in the country for 30 days. It can be obtained twice a year.
This measure has been so successful that between 2014 and 2015, the number of tourists using an e-Tourist Visa increased by more than 1,000%.
Over time, the ETA facility is expected to be expended to about 180 countries. Nowadays, it concerns already the 82 following countries:

  • Andorra
  • Argentina
  • Armenia
  • Aruba
  • Australia
  • Belgium
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Cambodia
  • China
  • Colombia
  • Cook Islands
  • Cuba
  • Djibouti
  • East Timor
  • Fiji
  • Finland
  • Germany
  • Guatemala
  • Hong Kong
  • Hungary
  • Indonesia
  • Ireland
  • Israel
  • Jamaica
  • Japan
  • Jordan
  • Kenya
  • Kiribati
  • Laos
  • Luxembourg
  • Macau
  • Malta
  • Malaysia
  • Marshall Islands
  • Mauritius
  • Mexico
  • Micronesia
  • Mongolia
  • Monaco
  • Mozambique
  • Myanmar
  • Nauru
  • the Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Niue
  • Norway
  • Oman
  • Palau
  • Palestine
  • Panama
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Peru
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Russia
  • Saint Lucia
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Samoa
  • Seychelles
  • Singapore
  • Slovenia
  • Solomon Islands
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sri Lanka
  • Surinam
  • Sweden
  • Taiwan
  • Tanzania
  • Thailand
  • Tonga
  • Turks and Caicos Islands
  • Tuvalu
  • UAE
  • Ukraine
  • the United Kingdom
  • Uruguay
  • USA
  • Vanuatu
  • Venezuela
  • Vietnam

Protected Area and Restricted Area Permits

In order to preserve natural environment, some regions and states require specific permits to be crossed. The Protected Area Permit concerns the states of Nagaland and Sikkim, and parts of the following states:

    • Arunachal Pradesh
    • Himachal Pradesh
    • Jammu and Kashmir
    • Manipur
    • Mizoram
    • Rajasthan
    • Uttaranchal

A Restricted Area Permit is also required to enter the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and parts of Sikkim. As for the Lakshadweep Islands, a special permit must be obtained before landing.