Outbound Indian tourism is booming, yet while Indian visitor numbers in France have never been higher, Britain is failing to capitalise. The Commonwealth Summit offers an unprecedented opportunity for the UK and India to sign a new visa deal that boosts mutual prosperity, trade, and international partnership. That’s why UKinbound is supporting The Royal Commonwealth Society’s UK-India visa campaign.
India is a country on the rise. The economy is currently growing at more than 7% and is set to be the world’s 3rd largest by 2028. The ties that bind our two great counties are more than just history: India is the UK’s 4th largest source of Foreign Direct Investment and the largest of the BRIC countries in terms of inbound visitors. Last year alone, Indian visitors spent over £420m in the UK, with business visitors spending £211m. Yet as research by The Royal Commonwealth Society shows, the UK’s share of the crucial Indian market is declining, at a time when Indian outbound tourism is booming at an unprecedented rate.
For these reasons, UKinbound is dedicated to enhancing visa mobility between the UK and India, aiming to boost tourism, trade and cultural exchange through a new bilateral visa agreement between the two countries, a campaign spearheaded by The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) that launched in January 2016.
We hear a lot about China and the importance of supporting inward investment and tourism from this market – and rightly so, they are a high-spending and growing economy. But what about the low-hanging fruit that is the Indian market - a growing market which speaks our language, knows our culture, and even drives on the same side of the road? Why wouldn’t we want a piece of that pie? If we are to be a truly global-focused nation, then we need to reach out to the economic powerhouses of the future. We need to build on old relationships with new vigour; fan the flames of old allegiances; court those whom we may have previously taken for granted. Right now, it is clear that with Brexit looming we need all the friends we can get.
There are a number of persistent myths about the Indian market – that it is low-spending and high-risk – or worse, complacency that, given our cultural and family ties, they will come anyway. The reality, however, is that the growing middle class are choosing destinations such as Paris or Bali for their holidays rather than the UK. And there is a real danger that investors will see the EU 27 as a more attractive option that an isolated UK.
The greatest demonstration of our desire to build new global connections and build new business for the UK would be to reduce trade barriers. Our visa system must enable trade, not impede it. We have a proven model in the reduced cost and streamlined Chinese 2-year Visa. It is a model that works, and has supported nearly 20% growth from that market in 2 years. It is a compelling case and one we need to impress upon policy makers across government. We are delighted with the political support we have received for our campaign – 20 MPs have now signed our Early Day Motion and we look forward to working with colleagues across parliament to help us press our case to government.
On the 8th of March 2018, The RCS relaunched the Indian visa campaign with a parliamentary reception that brought together people from the worlds of Indian and UK business, tourism and politics, who all share one common goal: the desire to build a stronger, deeper relationship with one of Britain’s oldest allies, India. I was thrilled to see representatives of the India High Commission in attendance, and to be joined as a speaker by Uday Dholakia of Birmingham Airport, Nathan Stower of Virgin Atlantic, and the London Deputy Mayor for Business, Rajesh Agrawal. Together we made a renewed call to government for a new UK-India visa deal. The timing couldn’t be more crucial, as the campaign gains new momentum before Prime Minister Modi’s attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to be held in London and Windsor this April.
When planning our next steps in this campaign, we can take inspiration from one of India’s most famous sons, Mahatma Ghandi, who said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win!“ This is a market which we have ignored for far too long. It is a market that we may not have laughed at, but we certainly have not taken seriously enough. We are prepared to fight for a greater share of this market – and we may well have a battle on our hands. But we will win!
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Commonwealth Society.