Visitors from the UK have always been some of the most affable and accommodating in Goa’s tourism history. It is a sad reflection on the attitude and judgement of the Indian government that citizens from the UK have been singled out for what seems like purposeful harassment.
Ever since the UK government would not extend a reciprocal e-Visa to Indian citizens and the stringent covid-19 regulations that were put in place for those travelling to the UK, the Government of India has very petulantly withdrawn the e-Visa for UK citizens.
“The Indian High Commissioner himself declared that the Indian government would be withdrawing the e-Visa in response to the UK government not extending the same courtesy when he was attending a function at the Indian YMCA in London. So we know for certain it is a political tit for tat, which is completely juvenile and ridiculous,” says a source who did not want to be named.
Covid-19 brought its own complications with the Indian government taking away the online application process for UK tourists and, in some cases, forcing them to visit the poorly staffed, cramped VFS Global offices at various locations, which, in my opinion, quite defeated the purpose of social distancing and staying home during the pandemic.
Maggie Richardson, who is involved in animal welfare in Goa, says, “The main issue is no availability of an e-Visa. Secondly, people are having to travel long distances to agents to secure 12-month sticker visas, which allow for a stay of only 180 days per visit. The price of visas plus travel expenses to obtain the visa and hotel accommodation at times can be enough to put you off travelling for tourism completely. And then the last nail in the coffin is the rise in airfares.”
Now that the pandemic has clearly ended, the confusion and chaos continue.Neither has the visa procedure moved back to its original method of processing, nor have UK citizens been allowed access to the e-Visa.
The travel visa consultancy, Visa Genie, is not accepting visa applications before December 3, 2022, citing high demand and that as of now it is taking 6 weeks to get the next available appointment while the Indian embassy takes 2 weeks to process visas after submission.
A domino effect of the slow visa processing is that charter flight companies like TUI Airways Limited keep cancelling flights because they do not have enough passengers to fill the flight to capacity and make it cost-effective.
There have been recommendations online to opt for Sri Lanka, which despite its economic woes has been deemed a more viable tourist location. Others are choosing to travel around Europe, Africa and South America.
Not much has been done to alter the present circumstances, although last month MLA Rohan Khaunte did address the issue at the National Conference of State Tourism Ministers at Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, and urged the Union Ministry for Tourism to reinstate e-Visa facilities for UK tourists.
The only saving grace is that those whose 5-year visas had been suspended due to the pandemic are able to utilise their visas now. Needless to say, if this situation continues, Goa will have lost some extremely loyal and genial visitors, many of whom treat Goa like a second home and have life-long friendships here. Some have taken up causes here such as animal welfare and helping the underprivileged.
“It’s a real shame that the restrictions on e-visas are preventing people from being able to visit Goa, as the alternative process of applying is too difficult for most. It is forcing people who would love to visit Goa to fly elsewhere – their loss and Goa’s,” says Fr Tristan Chapman, who has been involved in charity work in Goa.
Let us hope that our central government will stop playing the “cutting off my nose to spite my face” game because we all know how that will end. We will lose all the paying, decent tourists only to have to put up with annoying ones that destroy our environment and heritage and see Goa as a location to indulge their decadence.