Chris Dix of VFS Global here talks to Breaking Travel News about how new ways of applying for a visa are making travel between India and the UK more convenient than ever as the two countries establish ever closer ties.
Christmas marks the peak of the six-month tourist season in India.
The cooler climes that mark the end of the monsoon make these months popular time for the British to head east.
Indian visitors too, perhaps visiting family who are on leave, also travel in high numbers to the UK during the Christmas and New Year period.
More people are travelling between India and the UK than ever before – for an ever-greater number of reasons.
There has been a huge expansion in air routes between the two countries.
For example, Air India started Ahmedabad-London flights this year and is planning new routes such as Delhi-Birmingham-Toronto.
According to figures by VisitBritain, in 2015 over 350,000 visitor visas were issued by the UK to Indian citizens, an increase of 15 per cent on the year before.
In the other direction, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office estimates that there are 800,000 visitors from Britain to India each year.
Travel to Britain among Indians has continued to flourish.
In July, inbound visitors to the UK were up six per cent from India over the last year.
According to the UK’s tourism board Visit Britain, Indian travellers are among the biggest spenders abroad, – with an average spend per person per trip of £1,139.
Education is another pull factor.
Over eighteen thousand Indian students studied at British universities in 2014/2015 – the second highest group after Chinese students.
Meanwhile, the British make up the third highest proportion of overseas arrivals to India.
This figure will only grow as the Indian tourist sector expands over the next decade.
The business links between the two countries make smooth travel essential.
Britain is the largest G20 investor in India – with a total inflow of US $23.12 billion – while India invests more in the UK than it does in the rest of the EU combined.
No wonder that UK prime minister Theresa May’s pledge to “forge a new global role for the UK” saw her choosing to take her first major trade mission to India this autumn.
Travel has been made far easier between the two countries through improvements in the processing of visas.
The days of queues at embassies are long gone.
In India, the UK visa regime has tended to be surrounded by myths, but is actually very straightforward if you meet the criteria.
Indeed, 90 per cent of Indians who apply to visit the UK are granted a visa.
In both countries, improvements in technology and customer service have transformed the application process.
For Indians travelling to the UK, visa processing now takes an average of just six days – and can be faster for those who opt for a premium service.
It is significant that the UK has 15 visa centres in India - more than for any other country in the world.
And it has never been easier to apply for a visa for India from the UK.
There are 14 UK visa application centres – stretching from London to Manchester, Bradford to Belfast, and Cardiff to Edinburgh.
Just as in all other areas of modern life, where expectations about speed and quality of service have risen exponentially, travellers now want bespoke services in visa processing too.
Many wish to avoid paperwork and have their travel documents couriered to them at short notice – even in some cases directly to the airport.
Where possible, they want to correspond or even apply for a visa via their smartphone or tablet.
Already, travellers in both directions now have the option to keep their passport when applying for visas so that they can apply to travel to other countries at the same time.
There is even a personalised form-filling assistance service to ensure that an application won’t get rejected because of a simple error.
For emergency travel, there is a 24-hour ‘same day’ visa turnaround service.
For those who are too short of time to travel to a visa centre, there is an ‘on demand’ service where staff will travel to a home, office, campus or hotel to process the application and enrol biometrics.
An SMS service keeps customers updated on the stage that their application has reached.
Travel documents can be couriered at short notice – even in some cases directly to the airport.
Practical improvements – in the visa process like the ones mentioned above serve as ‘booster shots’ for trade, travel and tourism in both countries.
Often when we are thinking about further strengthening relations between the UK and India we think of impressive new airports.
But the bureaucracy of travel matters too.
Maintaining a smooth, responsive and personalised visa system is a vital condition to successful interchange of family, friends, tourists, and business travellers between India and the UK.
Chris Dix is chief operating officer, Europe & Americas, at VFS Global