New budget flights starting this winter, as well as cheaper holiday costs and simpler ways of applying for a visa, are set to make travel to India from the UK more attractive than ever, believes an industry expert.
From December, just ahead of the most popular time of year for Britons to travel to India, WOW air will become the first budget airline to fly from the UK to India with fares starting from £149. Indian budget carrier IndiGo is also expected to join WOW air in starting to offer flights soon.
This will help India further develop a reputation as one of the world's leading travel destinations and establish it as a popular budget flight destination. Already greater numbers are travelling to the country than ever - reports show that last year, India earned $27 billion from international tourist arrivals and saw an increase of 15.2 per cent in visitors.
Who from the UK are already travelling to India
Latest statistics from the Indian Ministry of Tourism show the UK alone accounted for 10 per cent of all foreign tourist arrivals in India in 2016. Of these, more than half (53 per cent) travelled for leisure and holiday reasons and more than a quarter (28 per cent) were Indian diaspora, possibly travelling to meet friends and family.
So, what are the drivers of this growth Why is it a great time for those in the UK to visit India
I believe the reason is that it is getting easier - and costing less - to fly to India.
Even before the start of budget flights this winter, according to new figures from the International Air Transport Association, India is already the
In addition to being able to fly direct from the UK to a growing number of Indian destinations - Bengaluru, Goa, Hyderabad and Chennai for example, in addition to longer-established routes such as New Delhi and Mumbai - more UK airports are now offering direct flights to India. For example, you can fly from
to New Delhi or Amritsar without a stopover.
Delhi and Mumbai airports may continue to account almost half of foreign arrivals in 2016 (accounting for 29.7 per cent and 17.2 per cent of arrivals respectively) but the latest figures from the Indian Ministry of Tourism show Tier II cities are also now handling hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors. Most UK visitors arrive in Delhi (30.7 per cent of arrivals) and Mumbai (27.1 per cent) but Chennai and Bengaluru accounted for 5.7 per cent, Cochin 5.1per cent and Hyderabad 3per cent of UK arrivals. Once you're there, internal flights within India are also affordable, with
to airline schedules on a regular basis.
Travel costs in India are affordable
At a time when the continuing
in the UK might make travellers think twice about booking a vacation, it's worth considering that India is now the 10
best destination for price competitiveness, according to the World Economic Forum's 2017
, meaning holiday costs like accommodation and meals are extremely affordable.
What's more, the strength of the Pound against the Rupee makes your money go further, great news for those planning to travel.
More convenient than ever to apply for a visa
before travelling to India, but recent improvements to the processing of visas have made it far easier than before. Access to the Visa Application Centres has never been easier: in the UK, there are now
- two in London, plus in major cities with a high number of diaspora: Birmingham, Edinburgh,
, Belfast, Bradford, Cardiff, Liverpool, Glasgow and Leicester. At the visa centre, it's a straightforward process to apply for your visa and submit your biometric data.
There is a mail-in service available for people to obtain their visitor's visa. Generally, you should apply well in advance, although processing times vary and are at the sole discretion of the High Commission of India and its Consulates in the UK. For emergency and urgent business travel, a same-day priority visa service is available.
Technology is also making the process easier. Applicants can also get text message updates to inform them about the status of their applications, so they don't have to call the application centre or check online, and can choose to have their passport delivered via a secure delivery service for peace of mind.
Applicants can opt instead to apply for an e-visa in advance, meaning visitors with e-visas have their biometric data checked on arrival in India. Those who want the reassurance of knowing that everything has been sorted out before they leave the UK - especially families or those travelling with older relatives - may prefer to apply through a Visa Application Centre.
Twenty years ago, around 2.4 million foreign visitors visited India, but in 2017 there were five times that number. Indeed, the World Travel and Tourism Council
that India is set to become the world's third largest travel and tourism economy by 2028. Factors like more flight options, launch of budget airline routes to India by Wow air, affordable travel costs, and a more accessible visa application process, will surely help drive that growth, and maintain this trend for some time to come.
Jiten Vyas is Regional Group COO for leading business operations in Africa (including Turkey), CIS and Eastern Europe, Europe and Americas, and Australasia regions at VFS Global, among the world′s largest outsourcing and technology services specialists for visa and passport applications for governments and diplomatic missions worldwide.