Air India announces direct flights to Amritsar from Birmingham Airport

Air India, the flag carrier airline of India, has announced a new direct service route to the North Indian city of Amritsar from Birmingham Airport, the only UK airport to operate non-stop services on this route.

The new Amritsar-Birmingham direct route will be served twice a week. Amritsar is home to the Golden Temple, considered the most important pilgrimage site in the Sikh religion. Air India, which started its UK service in August 2013, presently operates a popular daily direct service from Birmingham to Delhi, carrying nearly 500,000 passengers so far, Birmingham Airport said in a release.

The new service will be operated using the Boeing 787-8 series aircraft, which has 256 seats in a split cabin, consisting of 18 business class and 238 economy seats. The details of the route launch, including the days of flight, are to yet be announced.

William Pearson, Aviation Director, Birmingham Airport commented: ‘It is great news that we will have non-stop connections to two Indian cities. With over 200,000 British-Indian people who travel to India to visit friends and relatives, and for tourism and business interests, this additional destination shows the large demand within the region for non-stop Amritsar services from the Midlands. Air India has been a successful partner for over four years and offers great connections to India with services operated by the new Boeing 787-8 ‘Dreamliner’ aircraft.’

Pankaj Srivastava, Director – Commercial and Board Member of Air India said: ‘We are delighted that we are able to announce that we are planning to commence non-stop services between Birmingham and Amritsar twice a week, starting early 2018, recognising the consumer demand from the Midlands’ region to Amritsar, Punjab.’

Commenting on the announcement, Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: ‘One of the most common issues raised when I talk to the Sikh community in our region is that they and their families are unable to fly direct to Amritsar. Ever since, we’ve been working with Air India and Birmingham Airport to explore whether we could introduce this direct service for the 135,000 Sikhs living in the West Midlands. I am delighted this will start early next year – I know it will be well received news and a well-used service.’

Preet Gill, MP added: ‘I am delighted at this announcement of direct flights to Amritsar. I would like to thank both Birmingham Airport and Air India for bringing this non-stop flight to Amritsar to the region.

‘This is wonderful news for the West Midlands, not just for the Punjabi community, but for business too.’

Air India plans daily flights from Birmingham to Delhi, Amritsar

Air India has announced plans to increase frequency from four flights per week to daily services at Birmingham Airport.

Starting December 21, Air India will operate the new daily flight programme between Birmingham, Delhi and Amritsar. With the increase in flight frequency and the new Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner,’ the airline will offer more than 3,500 seats on the route each week. The Dreamliner operates a 256 seat cabin, consisting of 18 business class and 238 economy seats.

With the introduction of Wednesday, Friday and Sunday to its schedule, Air India’s programme will see flights arriving from Amritsar and Delhi at 1700 daily and departing Birmingham for the return legs at 2030 each evening. The new programme is on sale through or via travel agents.

Paul Kehoe, Birmingham Airport’s Chief Executive, said, ‘We are incredibly thankful to Air India for committing to daily services from Birmingham and adding more direct capacity to India from the Midlands.

‘The West Midlands receives more foreign direct investment from India than any other region outside of London and Birmingham’s VFR market grew by 71% in 2013, now attracting more visitors from India than any English city other than London.

‘It’s therefore hardly surprising that the route has been such a success since its inauguration in August last year as it allows people to travel from their local catchment area, rather than airports further away.’

Vishwanath Panyam, Air India’s Astt. General Manager, added, ‘The West Midlands is a diverse region and home to more than 200,000 British-Indian people so we are pleased to be able to not only serve this extensive VFR market but also give business travellers direct access to the whole of India via Delhi on the comfortable, quiet and state of the art Boeing-787 Dreamliner aircraft.

‘I hope that the daily services will offer greater choice, flexibility and convenience and make the Birmingham flights even more appealing to local people.’


India to ease visa rules for British visitors

India is set to relax its visa regulations for 40 countries, including Britain, as part of efforts to attract more tourists to the country, according to a report by the Telegraph.

Under the proposed changes, British visitors will be able to obtain a visa on landing at several Indian airports after filling in a form online before arrival. Further details on the implementation of the new regulations, which the officials said would be introduced ‘as soon as possible,’ have not been disclosed.

The facility was introduced to residents of Germany, France, Spain, Russia and Poland earlier this year, but was not offered to British travellers. Indian authorities have been looking for a reciprocal system with the UK so that nationals of both countries benefited. However, with the focus on attracting tourists, India has decided to go ahead with the relaxation as tourists and tour operators have complained about the country’s tortuous visa process.

Last year, the cost of an Indian visa for a British traveller increased drastically from £38 to £82, not including a processing fee of £10.50.

Visitors to India from all nations totalled just over six million last year, less than a quarter of the number of visitors to Malaysia, and a tenth of those who went to China. The proposed relaxation comes as India’s tourism ministry is looking to double visitor numbers by 2016.

In addition to the introduction of visas on arrival, the different types of visa will also be reduced from 16 to 3, making the application process simpler.

The category of airports where the visa on arrival will be available will also be extended. So far, visas were only available at major international airports including Delhi, Chennai, and Mumbai. Now, the on-arrival visa facility will be available in other airports including Goa, Gaya and Amritsar, which attract significant numbers of overseas tourists.

British tour operators to India have welcomed the decision. Ashley Royston of Virgin Holidays said: ‘As India rolls out the red carpet and makes it quicker and easier than ever for foreign tourists to arrange their paperwork, we hope that this development will encourage Britons to visit this exciting and enticing destination.’

Birmingham targets growing Indian tourism market, Air India’s new flight launched

The UK city of Birmingham is looking to build its growing Indian tourist market with the launch of a new Air India flight.

With nearly 13,500 Indian visitors to Birmingham each year, the West Midlands is the most popular region outside of the South East for Indian tourists to the UK.

Currently operating four times weekly between Birmingham Airport and New Delhi, the newly launched Air India service is expecting a significant increase in traffic in the coming years. The new Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner’ service will see up to 1,024 additional passengers travel to Birmingham each week.

Marketing Birmingham, which operates leisure tourism programme Visit Birmingham, is working with partners to build on the rising tourism market, raising the city’s profile overseas as a tourism destination through targeted campaigns and key trade shows.

Neil Rami, chief executive of Marketing Birmingham said: ‘Birmingham has a proud reputation as one of the most diverse cities in Europe and is home to a large, rapidly growing Indian population.

‘Securing a direct flight route to the Indian capital is a major step for Birmingham, and the result of much hard work by citywide partners to promote the area’s potential for the airline. News of Air India’s investment comes at a time when Birmingham’s international standing is at an all time high. We must now continue to develop our global profile – promoting the city overseas is vital to securing more international routes and building the city’s reputation as a European hub for tourism.’

Birmingham’s strategic marketing partnership has been working with Birmingham Airport at events including Routes Asia in Mumbai to position Birmingham as an ideal destination for global airlines.

Paul Kehoe, CEO of Birmingham Airport, said: ‘Birmingham is the first city outside of London to operate a dedicated scheduled Boeing 787 Dreamliner service. This statement of confidence from Air India sends a clear signal that Birmingham is a great destination for not only business, but also leisure, visitors.

‘Our regular services to Delhi will encourage more Indian visitors to travel to the city and experience our great culture, using Birmingham Airport as their gateway to the rest of the UK.’

Shivali Suri, country manager for Visit Britain in India, said: ‘These are exciting times for Birmingham. The acquisition of the new Air India route means the city is primed to capitalise on this growing market for the Midlands, and indeed the UK.

‘There is a clear demand for increased travel capacity between Birmingham and India – the city is now prepared to cater for this influx of visitors who spend considerably more than most international tourists.’

Presently, the new service operates four times weekly, each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, arriving from Amritsar and Delhi into Birmingham at 1800 hours and departing to Delhi and Amritsar from Birmingham at 2130 hours.

Falling rupee affects Indian tourism

The fall of the Indian rupee, which has touched unprecedented lows, has affected tourism to and from India.

Tourism officials said that travel to South East Asia and domestic destinations had received a boost as the weak rupee has made Indians choose them over dollar destinations for holidays.

The value of the rupee, which has fallen below the psychological resistance level of 59.52/dollar, has affected the travel plans of many groups. From students who were planning to settle down in foreign nations to those who had plans to vacation abroad, all have been affected by the weak value of the rupee.

As foreign trips have become quite costly for Indian tourists, many people are either cancelling or cutting short their foreign trips. They are also opting for domestic destinations. A survey by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), said, ‘the foreign tourist outflow registered a significant decline to the extent of 15-20% due to the falling rupee. In the wake of the record rupee depreciation, Indian tourists are not just cutting their vacation days, but are opting for holidays within the country rather than going abroad.’

An official with STIC, a travel agency, said, ‘The depreciation in the Indian currency has definitely impacted the tourism industry as we’re seeing a 15 per cent drop in outbound travel to dollar destinations, which are usually packed during the holiday season. If the equation between the rupee and the dollar doesn’t change soon, there might be a 30 per cent drop, which would be rather alarming for us. For the past few days, we have also been seeing the impact of the rupee hitting an all-time low. Travellers are opting for South-East Asian destinations and even Europe, but destinations such as the USA and Canada have, all of a sudden, fallen out of favour with Indian travellers.’

On the other hand, the number of foreign tourists visiting the nation has increased, as foreigners are cashing in on the low value of the rupee for their vacations.

GoAir declares no-men policy for cabin crew

Airlines cutting costs by limiting factors that increase fuel consumption is nothing new, but Indian low-cost airline GoAir looks to be going the extra mile here, announcing plans for a controversial policy of only taking on female cabin crew from now on.

The carrier announced that such a move could save it up to £330,000 a year on fuel (30 million rupees), as female staff weigh in around 33lb to 44lb lighter than male staff would on average. It did however clarify that its existing 132 male staff would not be sacked – simply that no new male staff would be brought on board.

The move forms part of larger plans by the company to save weight – and hence fuel – on its flights. It also announced that it will cut the size of its in-flight magazine, and only fill its water tanks to 60 percent capacity. It also said that new planes would have wingtip devices to help reduce fuel burn. GoAir estimates that each pound of weight costs it 1.7 pence per hour of flying, and with the sharp recent decline of the Indian rupee, which has hurt the industry badly, every small amount counts.

Speaking to the Time of India, GoAir CEO Giorgo De Roni said that cost cutting was necessary as the rupee’s fall against the dollar had ‘hurt the industry badly,’ explaining: ‘All major expenses – aircraft leasing, spare parts and fuel costs – are linked to the dollar. We are looking at every possible way of cost-cutting to remain profitable.’

The airline expects to hire 2,000 extra cabin staff and pilots by 2020.

UK travellers excluded from India’s improved visa rules

New, improved visa rules for visitors to India look like they will exclude British travellers.

While travellers from a number of European countries including France, Spain, Germany, Poland and Russia are expected to benefit from being able to buy a visa on arrival in India rather than having to apply for one in advance, UK visitors are still likely to be subject to the existing system, according to a report in the Daily Mail.

The nation’s exclusion from the simplified and more convenient process is thought to be a retaliatory move by the Indian government for the UK’s tightening of visa regulations for visiting Indian nationals. The Indian authorities have already increased the cost of visas for UK citizens to £82 from £38, as well as increasing the administration fee by £1 to a new total of £10.20.

The final decision has not yet been made according to a spokesperson for the Indian High Commission, Mr Shaibal Roy Chowdhury, but he told MailOnline Travel that, ‘For the UK nationals, to the best of our knowledge, as of now there is no such proposal on the table. Visa protocols and guidelines are usually on a reciprocal basis. Hence, visa on arrival for UK nationals will perhaps entail a similar facility for Indian nationals.’

While postal applications for an Indian visa can take up to 10 days to process, Mr Chowdhury insisted that for UK applicants most visas are processed within 3 days.

The newly added countries to India’s list of preferential visa applicants will join the eleven countries that already benefit from the perk, which include Japan, Luxembourg, Vietnam and Finland.

800,000 Britons currently visit India each year.

VisitBritain promotes UK in India

VisitBritain, the British tourist authority responsible for promoting tourism to the UK, is currently undertaking its annual trade event, VisitBritain India Mission 2013, in New Delhi and Mumbai, India.

The mission is intended to help UK-based travel companies and organisations that are involved in UK tour packages, attractions and the promotion of specific destinations to make new contacts with over 200 agents from all over India. India is a specific target for VisitBritain, due partly to the massive potential for inbound travel from Indian nationals that are keen to visit their friends and relatives in the UK. According to recent figures, 2012 was a record year for such visits, as well as a more general tourist in-flow from India.

355,000 Indian residents visited Britain in 2012 and spent a total of GBP318 million, doubling the number that visited in 2000, and that figure is expected to grow again this year. VisitBritain is targeting an additional 150,000 Indian visitors by 2020, representing a 40 percent increase and taking the annual total to over half a million.

VisitBritain’s overseas network director, Keith Beecham, commented, ‘The popularity of visits to loved ones and family members played a huge part in tailoring the content for our 2013 India mission. We will help foster relations with key trades who can help us achieve our ambitious targets for visitors from the region. We’re putting family friendly British businesses in front of decision makers, generating growth from a high spending region. Our research also suggests that potential visitors want to see more than just London and the Indian Trade mission will look to educate the industry, making sure they know all there is to know about Britain.’


Mumbai launches Trans Sahayadri trek

With a plan to develop eco tourism, the state of Maharashtra in India has launched its new programme, called the Trans Sahayadri trek.

To be launched this month, the trek will cover routes across the Sahayadris, mountain ranges, from Kolhapur to Bhimashankar. The idea is to involve local and rural communities in the tourism project so that they will benefit from the revenues. Local communities are being especially encouraged to provide accommodation to trekkers, and this is expected to reduce poverty as well as increasing facilities for tourists.

The administration said that the trekking programme would depend a lot on the locals, who would work to keep the zone litter free. Special interest groups will also be created with the help of locals so that trekking routes are kept free of litter, while the groups would also be involved in preventing poaching and forest fires.

Principal secretary (Forest), Praveen Pardeshi, said that the first phase of the trek is to begin next week, and short treks have been planned from Chandoli to Prachitgad. Trekkers would then camp in one of the home stay villages. The trek to Prachitgad will start on the morning of December 8 from Karad, Debhewadi.

Pardeshi said the trek route has been organised and planned by Mohan Karnad, chief wildlife warden of the Sahayadri Tiger Reserve. The state government, as well as the Wildlife Conservation trust (WCT), will lend their support to the initiative. The authorities are also planning to extend the trek route if the initial response to the programme is good.

The administration said that it has plans to create a trekking programme that can last up to 10 days. Each day, trekkers will camp in a village located along the route.


A guide to India’s top national parks

India is a brilliant place to spot amazing wildlife and incredible scenery – and its national parks are arguably the best areas to do so. There is a surprisingly large number of these, though, so we’ve put together a quick list of the ones that most spark my interest below. Hopefully, that’ll help you narrow down your options.

Nagarhole National Park

Where: Karnataka

Named after the river that runs through it, Nagarhole National Park is one of the true highlights of any trip to India. Made up of forested valleys and mountains, this reserve is home to all kinds of wonderful wildlife – and is an especially good place to spot elephants, which is something that particularly appeals.

However, there’s loads more you see here – including tigers, which is one of the most popular animals to try to see on jaunts to India. Leopards, sloth bears, jackals and close to 300 types of birds are just some of the other animals you might spot while you’re there.

Ranthambore National Park

Where: Rajasthan

This is a popular stop-off on nature-based tours of India, which are one of the best things to do if you’re serious about seeing a lot of wildlife. Companies like TransIndus run this kind of break, with Ranthambore likely to be listed on these itineraries as one of the top places to spot tigers.

In fact, poachers have depleted the number of big cats here a fair amount in recent years but, fortunately, there’s still a decent enough population density that you’re pretty likely to see one or two loping around while you’re there.

While the tigers are what most people come to see, this reserve – which is the flagship national park in Rajasthan – has a lot else to offer. In addition to all the other animals, which include leopards, jackals, Indian porcupines and longeared hedgehogs, you can also see authentic Rajput ruins dotted about the grounds.

Bandhavgarh National Park

Where: Madhya Pradesh

If it’s tigers that really interest you, Bandhavgarh National Park absolutely has to be on your list of places to visit. Why? Well, it claims to have the greatest density of Bengal tigers not only in the country, but also in the world. As you’d expect, this means that by coming here, you’ll give yourself the best chance of seeing one.

Excitingly, you can go on an elephant safari early in the morning to track the tigers, or you’re able to go down the more common jeep route – the choice is yours. One thing to remember when planning your trip, though, is the park is closed for several months a year, usually between July and October.

Fossil National Park

Where: Madhya Pradesh

India’s national parks may often be home to amazing animals, but not all of them are wildlife-focused. For a unique experience, head to Fossil National Park, where you can see fossilised plants and molluscs.

Most of the time, these fossils look a lot like normal rocks, which has led to them being unwittingly damaged or moved in the past. While they may not have a particularly striking appearance, they are truly remarkable when you consider they date back between 40 million and 150 million years.

So, visiting here is a really magical, once in a lifetime experience. Don’t miss it!