In a bid to promote tourism, India may allow issuance of visa on arrival, sometime in 2009.
"We have been working hard for a visa-on-arrival scheme. It could hopefully happen in 2009," Union Tourism and Culture Minister Ambika Soni told reporters on Sunday.
Infrastructure for such a provision is also likely to be ready only by next year, when the airports in Delhi and Mumbai will be upgraded.
About 5 million tourists came to India last year (2007) against 4.45 million in 2006. The foreign exchange earnings from tourists are estimated at about $12 billion in 2007 against about $9 billion last year.
Soni, who is in Singapore to inaugurate the cultural chapter of the 'Incredible India @ 60' campaign, said that she did not expect the global economic slowdown to have any impact on the toursit arrivals. In the first two months of the year (January-February), tourist arrivals are up 11 per cent to 1.15 million, while foreign exchange earnings are up 28.9 per cent to $2.8 billion.
Nevertheless, the ministry is promoting budget hotels and bed-and-breakfast schemes to make India a more affordable destination.
Talking about the initiatives planned for the current year, she said that 20 destinations had been identified to offer tourists a "complete experience" as part of a pilot project to promote India as a short-haul tourist destination. Rural tourism is also a focus area of the government since such projects generate income and foster development.
"Social goals are woven in our tourism expansion," she said.
The ministry has also launched an 'earn while you learn' programme to train students as tourist guides. "We need 20,000 guides and we are trying to create guide banks," she said.
To take advantage of the private sector skills in tourism development, tax incentives are also being given for hotel development as well as for funds set aside for conservation of monuments, she added.