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Visit raises hopes of visa reform

UK tour operators are hoping David Cameron's trip to India will help ease the path for British travellers heading for the subcontinent.

Mr Cameron has promised that Indian entrepreneurs will be "fast-tracked" to British visas.

But UK tourists wishing to go on holidays to India now face a huge hike in the cost of visas.

The fee for a six-month visa went up last month from 38 to 82 while the admin fee rose from 1 to 10.20.

"It has been far too big a rise," said Rajeev Manral, of London-based Indian holiday specialist company Indus Tours & Travel.

He went on: "From what we can gather the thinking behind the rise is that Indians have to pay the equivalent of about 100 for their visas to come to Britain and that's why the visas for UK holidaymakers have gone up.

"It means that a family of four wanting to go to India are going to have to fork out nearly 400 even before they have paid for the air ticket or package or for APD (the airport departure Air Passenger Duty tax)."

Mr Manral, whose company is based in Harrow, north west London, said: "If this is a reciprocal arrangement, then perhaps Mr Cameron's promise will make it easier for Britons to visit India."

David Scowsill, president and chief executive of the World Travel & Tourism Council, said: "We have seen encouraging developments, with attempts to liberalise visa procedures, but India is becoming increasingly expensive.

"Further measures to make it easier for travellers to enter the country are a key priority. It is also important to make the visa process faster and ultimately electronic, so that travellers who want to come to the country do not face unnecessary obstacles."

The UK's Tourism Alliance said the Cameron initiative on business visas for Indians should be an approach widened to include tourism visitors.

The alliance added that UK visitor numbers from India were fewer in 2012 (348,000) than they were in 2006 (367,000), with France now receiving 20% more visitors from India than the UK.

Tourism Alliance chairman Michael Hirst said: "India is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and while we welcome this news on business visas from the Government, we feel that the UK will continue to miss out on the economic boost offered by tourist visitors.

"Visitors from India spend on average 900 per stay in the UK, about 60% more than the average visitor. Carrying out a similar change for tourism visas will generate larger visitor numbers and an immediate and long-term financial boost to the UK economy."

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