Ishani Duttagupta & Raja Awasthi
Times News Network Saturday, January 06, 2007
Forget the Swiss Alps and exotic Thai beaches. The next holiday season belongs to the Caribbean. A heady mix of cricket, steel drums and Angosturas is set to keep travel buffs and cricket fans in good spirits. And the travel industry is all set to cash in.
Starting January 15 right up to May 15 (the end of ICC Cricket World Cup 2007), the nine CARICOM (Caribbean Community) host countries – Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago – along with Dominica are launching a six-month, multiple entry visa into the single domestic space created by the governments to facilitate seamless travel within the region for the World Cup. All Indian nationals travelling to the region during the period will have to use the special visa.“This will be a massive exercise for us, considering that ticket sales in India for the Cricket World Cup have reportedly already crossed the 4,000 mark here. Since our operations are not very big and we are used to issuing around 120 visas a month, we have roped in the services of VFS India, a top visa outsourcing agency, to help with the CARICOM special visa applications,” Urvashi Ramnarine, deputy high commissioner of Trinidad & Tobago (T&T) in Delhi told ET.
The T&T High Commission in Delhi is the CARICOM diplomatic mission with the jurisdiction to issue the special visas in Asia. Considering that the region includes cricket crazy nations like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the CARICOM special visa unit and VFS India have a big job on their hands. Applications are also expected from Australia and New Zealand till the T&T Consulate General in Australia ramps up operations.
VFS will accept the visa applications, with a $100 visa fee plus Rs 1,000 service charges and taxes, at its UK visa application centres in Delhi, Jalandhar, Chandigarh, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Cochin, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Pune and Kolkata. The centres will have special designated timings and counters for the cricket visa.
“NRIs in regions like North America and the UK too are boosting ticket sales and buying online for friends and relatives from India. Besides, if India reaches the semi-finals and finals there will also be a last minute spurt in ticket sales,” feels Ms Ramnarine. “The travel and tourism industry in the Caribbean is gearing up for a big rush with infrastructure in terms of roads, environment and accommodation facilities being spruced up. The special visa, we feel, will cater to a large tourist segment besides cricket buffs because it is a nine-country, multi-entry visa. Tourists and cricket buffs will get their money’s worth from this concept which was developed by our governments in a record 16 months,” she says.
The travel industry in India is also geared up for a spurt in tourism to the Caribbean during the Cricket World Cup season. Says Travel Agent Association of India (TAAI) vice president Rajji Rai: “We are expecting cricket crazy fans from India to throng the West Indies in large numbers. They are hoping for a lot from Team India this time and so the demand for the special Caribbean packages is very high with travel agents notching up large bookings every day.”
SOTC, one of the largest players in the Indian travel industry, has launched special Cricket World Cup 2007 packages such as Down under Action in Antigua, Final Mission, The Great Caribbean Experience and Encounter in Barbados. The packages, ranging from seven to 14 days, are priced between Rs 3.5 lakh and Rs 5 lakh, and include tourism in the region along with cricket matches. “There has been a good response to our special packages and we expect that Indian cricket fans will definitely travel in large numbers to the Caribbean this year.”