India is looking to ease its visa regime for ASEAN nations in a bid to increase Buddhist tourist arrivals – travellers looking to visit Buddhist heritage sites – to the country, India’s vice president said.
Speaking during a visit to Thailand last week, Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari said the shared heritage of the region – the rise of Buddhism in India and its spread to Southeast Asia – was a focus area for the South Asian nation’s engagement with the region, though he did not elaborate on the details of this proposed visa liberalisation.
“In consideration of these links, India is considering the feasibility of liberalising our visa regime for ASEAN countries to facilitate Buddhist tourist arrivals,” he said.
Cambodians already have easy access to Indian visas, with business travellers having to pay no visa fees to visit the country, said N Sitlhou, the first secretary at the Indian Embassy in Phnom Penh.
“It is already eased. We give Cambodians a visa the same day and we are not charging them for business-related activities,” Sitlhou said.
Plans were in place to have a seminar in early April, Sitlhou said, which will be attended by Tourism Minister Thong Khon, the Cambodian Association of Travel Agents (CATA) and tour operators from India, to find an “all-in-one” approach to bring more Cambodian tourists to Buddhist sites in India. However, there would be other benefits beyond tourism as well, he added.
“The Buddhist circuit [for travellers] is the main thing, but this will also help increase business engagement [between the two countries],” Sitlhou added.
Ang Kim Eang, president of CATA, said that obtaining a visa to India was not difficult, but getting rid of visa fees for tourists, which could be a little expensive for local travellers, would help boost tourist numbers to India.
He added that increasing connectivity to India will bring down the costs of travelling to the subcontinent. India and Cambodia are currently working on starting a direct flight between the two countries.
“It is very inconvenient for the travellers [without a direct flight],” he added.
According to Eang, there was interest among local travellers to visit India, and there was already a “large number” of people visiting India to do the Buddhist circuit of sites.
However, Eang was unaware of the exact number of travellers visiting India.
India’s “Act East” policy is Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s revamp of the decades old “Look East” policy, and aims to strengthen economic and strategic relations in the region.
It also looks to counter China’s strategic and aggressive economic investments in ASEAN, much like the US’ “Pivot to Asia” policy.