Kerala wants visa rules for KSA tourists relaxed

Kerala wants visa rules for KSA tourists relaxed
In this file photo, tourists enjoy a ride aboard a houseboat in the backwaters of Alappuzha, some 150 kms north of Thiruvananthapuram, capital of India's southern state of Kerala. (AFP)
Updated 08 June 2016

Kerala wants visa rules for KSA tourists relaxed

Kerala wants visa rules for KSA tourists relaxed

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, India: The southern Indian state of Kerala, whose tourism industry was hit hard by new visa rules, has asked the federal government for a relaxation as the monsoon set in over its coasts on Wednesday.
The Indian Embassy in Riyadh had recently introduced new biometric verification norms for visitors from the Kingdom, who constitute a significant chunk of tourists in the state.
Reports say there was a sharp dip in bookings this season with most of them preferring the neighboring island nation of Sri Lanka. Kerala received some 50,000 Saudi guests last year.
Saudi Arabia is currently the fifth largest market for Kerala tourism, which attracts holidaymakers with its beaches, hill stations and backwaters and the industry finds the Arabs high spenders unlike backpackers from Europe.
“Saudis keep the tourism industry of the state alive, even during the off-season,” Kerala Tourism Minister A.C. Moideen said in his letter to federal Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma.
The state’s tourism board had conducted pre-season roadshows in Dammam and Riyadh last month, and they were expecting a better tourist inflow from the Kingdom this year.
Unlike e-visas for tourists that citizens of more than 100 countries can now apply online, travelers here need to visit the embassy to take the biometric visa. The state wants to include the Kingdom in the e-tourist visa regime.
Industry captains feel India tightened its tourism rules allegedly under Daesh-induced security threat perception which is “totally unfounded.”
“After an aggressive campaign in these markets, we were expecting a 30 percent increase in Arab tourist arrivals, which was 80,000 last year,” said U.C. Riyaz, who heads Spiceland Holidays, a major player in this market.
“It sends out a wrong message to one of the most respectable sections of tourists who love Kerala for its hospitality and Ayurvedic wellness treatment during the monsoon. We need an immediate solution.”
He along with other industry representatives held a long meeting with the minister and senior bureaucrats on Wednesday on ways to end the impasse.