New Delhi: The Indian travel and tourism industry is likely to see a spurt in growth this year on the back of new visa reforms, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

India’s travel and tourism economy is poised to grow 7.5% in 2015 over last year, exceeding the 6.9% growth that the global forum has predicted for the South Asian region.

In 2014, the industry contributed Rs7.64 trillion and 36.7 million jobs to the Indian economy. By the end of 2015, the travel and tourism sector will contribute Rs8.22 trillion or 7% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 37.4 million jobs—almost 9% of total employment, the report said.

“India has an excellent opportunity to benefit from visa reforms and infrastructure improvements under the new government," David Scowsill, president and chief executive of WTTC, said in an email interview, adding that India’s projected tourism growth was the highest for any major economy. “But the overall contribution of India’s travel and tourism sector to the overall economy is still relatively low (6.7% of GDP, against a global average of 9.8%)."

In November, India expanded the visa-on-arrival scheme to 43 nationalities from 12 countries earlier. It is in process of rolling out a similar facility for 150 countries.

Investment in the sector is likely to rise by 9.3% in 2015 over 2014 when travel and tourism investments in the country accounted for Rs2.11 trillion, or 6.2% of total investments.

“It should rise by 6.5% per annum over the next 10 years to Rs4,337.8 billion in 2025 or 6.9% of the total," the report said, adding that the sector had the potential to contribute 46 million jobs to the India economy by 2025.

Worldwide, the contribution to GDP from travel and tourism will have grown by 3.7% by the end of this year and the sector will contribute 284 million jobs, directly and indirectly, or one in 11 of all jobs on the planet.

The report cautioned that although recent improvements in the process of granting visas are welcome, visa liberalization still has a long way to go. The recent insistence upon biometric data for visitors from France and the UK will have far reaching impacts on travel to India from these countries, it said.

India also needs to recast and relaunch its the Incredible India campaign to “maximize India’s new visa regime", said the report.

Security and safety of tourists remain the major concerns.

“Government strategy is required to offset the damaging impact on the country’s international reputation, from the negative perceptions of the treatment of women and women travellers in the country," the report said.

India is trying to raise the share of foreign travel arrivals to 1% of total global tourists over the next couple of years, from 0.64%. In 2014, foreign exchange earnings from tourist arrivals totalled $19.657 billion, compared with $18.445 billion in 2013.

While it is possible for India to achieve 1% of global tourists by 2017, Scowsill said, it will need to act fast to achieve it.

“The country has recently improved its visa processes but more needs to be done on the implementation side and to bring ever more countries into the visa waiver programme. This is fundamental," he said.

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