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In what might seem like a much-needed relief to end long visa delays, how efficiently backlogs are cleared remains to be seen.

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The U.S. will open new consulates in Bengaluru and Ahmedabad while India will establish a mission in Seattle and two other locations in the U.S. Currently, India has five consulates in the U.S.: New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Houston and Atlanta, apart from the embassy in Washington. Visa delays are the single biggest impediment to growth in travel between the two countries. The two new consulates could help expedite the Indian visa application process, which the U.S. State Department now considers a “top priority.”

Early this month, top U.S. lawmakers urged the Biden administration to address the visa wait time issue. The U.S. Consulate’s all-hands-on-deck approach — such as bringing processing staff in on weekends, making embassies available to Indian nationals in other countries and hiring more staff — has reduced the wait times in the country by 50 percent, from an average of 669 days in mid-March to 337 days in early April, according to the U.S. Travel Association. 

India has become the U.S.’s second-largest international source market behind the UK (excluding Canada and Mexico). Likewise, the U.S. emerged as the second biggest source market for inbound tourism in India last year, after Bangladesh.

Fairfax India Acquires Additional 3% Stake in Bengaluru Airport Operator

Investment firm Fairfax India Holdings Corporation has acquired an additional 3 percent equity stake in Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) from Siemens Project Ventures GmbH — a division of Siemens Financial Services — for $75 million. With this latest transaction, Fairfax India’s overall share ownership in BIAL has now increased to 57 percent — 13.4 percent held by its wholly-owned subsidiary and 43.6 percent held by its indirect subsidiary, Anchorage Infrastructure Investments Holdings Limited, a statement said.

In addition to this acquisition, Fairfax India had previously announced its intention to acquire an additional 7 percent equity interest in BIAL from Siemens Financial Services for an additional consideration of $175 million. The completion of this transaction is subject to certain performance conditions being met by BIAL and other closing conditions. These conditions are expected to be assessed after October 31, 2023, it said.

VFS Global, Radisson to Operate UK Application Centers

Visa service provider VFS Global has partnered with Radisson Hotel Group in India to operate UK application centers from the hotel chain’s properties. UK visa customers can now book appointments at any of the premium application centers located at Radisson Blu Hotel Amritsar, Radisson RED Chandigarh Mohali, Park Plaza Ludhiana and Radisson Noida for submitting their applications and enrolling biometrics this summer season, the company said in a statement.

This partnership will provide customers residing in and around Punjab and Noida with four new location options, in addition to the visa application centers located in Chandigarh, Jalandhar and New Delhi. “The partnership provides additional and conveniently located touchpoints to our customers,” said Prabuddha Sen, chief operating officer of South Asia at VFS Global. Radisson Hotel Group signed 11 new hotels in the country across brands between January and April this year. 

Taj-Parent IHCL Opens Second Ginger-Branded Hotel in Kochi

Tata Group-owned Indian Hotels Company (IHCL) has announced the opening of a 73-key Ginger Kochi, MG Road in the south Indian state of Kerala. “Kochi is the key gateway for tourism into the state. This will be our second Ginger branded hotel in the city, reflective of the demand and multiple micro markets present in the city,” said Puneet Chhatwal, managing director and CEO of IHCL. With this addition, IHCL will have 17 hotels in the state, including five under development. 

Last week, the company also launched its wellness brand, J Wellness Circle, based on principles of ayurveda and yoga. Integrating sustainability across all its offerings, the brand offers guests retreats including stays, spa therapies and experiences.

Tourists Visiting Ecotourism Zones to Get Insurance Coverage

Karnataka’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Wildlife has ordered all forest department field officers to provide insurance cover to visitors at ecotourism sites in protected areas across the southern state. The direction comes amid a similar proposal submitted to the department by wildlife conservationist Giridhar Kulkarni.

In January, he had highlighted how the state’s ecotourism sites offering adventure activities carry a risk for tourists like wild animal attacks and drowning, which may result in accidental deaths, permanent or partial disabilities. Kulkarni emphasized on providing a safe and quality experience for tourists. In May, he again wrote to the department informing them that jungle lodges and resorts in Karnataka and Kerala forest departments have been providing insurance coverage for visitors.


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Tags: bengaluru, india, Indian Hotels Company, radisson hotel group, skift india report, u.s. visa

Photo credit: India has become the U.S.’s second-largest international source market in May. Henry Thong / Unsplash

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