Visa delays persist for those seeking to travel to the UK, US and Canada, but that’s not deterring Indian overseas travellers. Travel industry insiders said countries such as Spain, Switzerland, Hungary, South Africa and Turkey are attracting more applicants due to better turnaround times, and will be cornering Indian spends, apart from other short-haul favourites that have more relaxed entry and visa requirements.
BLS International, which processes visas for Spain, saw India applicants surpassing pre-Covid numbers in June and July, said Shikhar Aggarwal, joint managing director of the company.
June and July saw a 59% and a 72% rise, respectively, in new visa applications for Spain from India compared with pre-Covid 2019.
Spain, Switzerland and Hungary are among European countries that have quicker turnaround times as visa challenges continue for Canada, the UK and US, said Rajeev Kale, president and country head for holidays, MICE and visas at Thomas Cook (India). Spain is taking 7-10 working days in Delhi and 4-5 in Mumbai; Hungary and France are taking 4-5 days in Mumbai; Switzerland is taking 7-10 working days and the processing for all applicants is being done through a central unit in Delhi, according to Kale.
“Turkey is witnessing a 25-35% surge in demand compared to pre-pandemic levels as they are consistently processing visas within 8-10 days under the normal process for Delhi and Mumbai and are taking an extra two days in other locations,” he said. “South Africa has seen a 20-25% jump in demand with a visa processing duration of 10 days. African countries such as Kenya and Egypt are also trending with a 20% jump in demand with visa on arrival making it easy for Indian customers to choose these destinations.”
Demand for destinations in Australia is expected to rise sharply in October and November, coinciding with the upcoming ICC T20 World Cup, with Indian arrivals in Melbourne likely increasing by up to 50% in November, according to a new RateGain Travel Technologies report.
Visa issues aside, the average fare for long-haul destinations such as the US, UK and Canada rose by a minimum 70% last month over January 2020, while short-haul destinations such as the UAE, Thailand, Singapore and Maldives have seen a more subdued increase over the same time period at 16-40%, said Saujanya Shrivastava, chief operating officer for flights and Gulf Cooperation Council, at MakeMyTrip.
“We need to bear in mind that airfare is one of the many factors that influence the decision of the traveller,” he added.
On the MakeMyTrip and Goibibo platforms, the recovery for key short-haul destinations such as the UAE and Maldives against pre-Covid times is 15% higher than that of top long-haul destinations such as the US, UK and Canada.
Post-Covid pent-up demand has resulted in all possible visa slots being utilised for Switzerland, with airlines flying at full capacity, said Ritu Sharma, deputy director for Switzerland Tourism.
“We are seeing Indians spending a longer time in the country,” she said. “The duration of their stays has increased over the previous years as they explore more outdoor activities. We also see more Indians staying in 4 and 5-star hotels, indicating that their spending power has gone up. Overall, the average spends are higher than in 2019.”
Daniel D’Souza, president and country head for holidays at SOTC Travel, said the company’s internal data indicate interest for visas on arrival or easy and quick visa destinations such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Maldives and Seychelles.
“We expect a surge of approximately 25% for the upcoming festive season from customers, not just from the metros but also tier 2-3 cities,” he said. “Australia is seeing a strong uptick in demand primarily due to the cricket fixtures starting October 2022.”
A VFS Global spokesperson said the company experienced “high volumes” of visa applications coupled with “limited” appointment availability and “stretched” visa processing timelines from India during the peak summer period this year.
Applicants could also face various issues based on the regions they are applying from.
“Visa processing for the UK, US and Canada continues to be difficult for Indian travellers, and while France in Mumbai is taking 4-5 working days, turnaround time has gone up by over 40 days in Delhi,” said a person familiar with the matter. “In south India, they are issuing visas quickly, but the rejection rate is high. For Italy, there are no new appointments available for west and south India. The per-day cap for Italy is so low that travel agents are unable to submit applications in west and south India.”