LETTER | The Indian visa fee increase has been a keenly felt issue among Malaysian participants to the recent Pravaty Bharatiya Diwas convention recently.
From Jan1, 2019, the Malaysian government has extended a 15-day visa-free travel to tourists from India and China with the expectation that it will boost inbound tourists from these two most populous countries to Malaysia. Matta also is requesting for year-round visa-free travel from these nations in a bid to address the shortfall in the number of tourists in recent years.
Tourism is a huge revenue earner for the economy and it is good that both the government and Matta are keen to promote tourism to Malaysia. However, I feel that the Malaysian government needs to bargain with the Indian government to reduce its big visa fee hike last year as a countermeasure to provide visa-free travel for Indians visiting Malaysia.
Many government and community leaders have spoken against the Indian government’s drastic visa fee hike last year but nothing has come out of these criticisms and Malaysians feel having been let down by the Malaysian government when it decided on the 15-day visa-free travel in return for nothing from the Indian government.
The Indian visa fee increase from July 2018 onwards for those wanting to visit India has come as a big shock to many individuals and families keen on visiting the country. There has been a drastic drop in the number of Malaysian tourists heading to India in the new year and this has also affected the airlines such as MAS, Air Asia and Malindo.
A lot of tourist agencies have also been hit hard by the move. The present fee is RM463 as compared to RM198 previously. It is more than a 100 percent increase. Major visa fee hikes, as well as other conditions and restrictions, will surely reduce the number of tourists wanting to visit India. With the ticket prices of air travel going down to encourage more people to fly, visa fee hikes are putting a damper on tourists and visitors.
At a time when many countries are encouraging tourism with visa-free visits or are charging the minimum as a matter of formality, the Indian government’s steep hike is not justifiable whatever the special reasons may be.
India, despite its dazzling variety of tourist spots and attractions drawn from its thousands of years of history and diversity, is one country that does not gain much from tourism as compared to “new” nations like Singapore that earn millions of dollars yearly.
One of the reasons is that the Indian government is not sensitive to the needs of present-day tourists, and unnecessary visa fee hikes, biometric enrolment as well as other payments and restrictions are some of them.
Often one reads of reports from India of accidents involving buses that kill or injure scores of passengers and tourists, sexual violence against foreign female tourists, building collapses, terrorist threats, exploitation of tourists by touts, sudden imposition of new rules, delays caused by boycotts, workers’ strikes, protests etc.
Despite all these shortcomings many visitors have a deep love for the country and want to visit its temples, mosques, churches and innumerable historical sites and tourist attractions and destinations such as Kashmir.
The visa fee hike was announced suddenly without giving tourists who had already pre-booked their air travel tickets enough time to apply for the visa before the increased fee was imposed. Malaysians are some of the most frequent travellers to India especially to visit friends and relatives, for education and business as well as for religious purposes. The two-way contact between Malaysia and India is fast growing in view of the long-established friendly relations between the two nations.
The Indian high commissioner to Malaysia needs to relay back to his government the strong sentiments of Malaysians opposing the hefty hike in the visa fee and also address the complaints and feedback concerning the visa processing centres in the country.
Malaysians are hoping that both the Malaysian and Indian governments can have a dialogue over the visa fee hike and bring it down to a more reasonable level and also reduce unnecessary restrictions as both countries want to encourage two-way tourism. I hope more Malaysians will keep on protesting the move as India is initiating visa-free travel and other incentives to numerous countries but why not for Malaysia?
The Indian government can come with multi- duration visas to cater for the different needs of travellers. This will be reasonable and sensible.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.