Europe travellers hit by visa delays
Manama, July 23, 2013
Bahraini travellers are being forced to change their holiday plans due to delays in obtaining Schengen visas, a report said.
Some travel agencies say around 30 per cent of people have had to push back their departure dates, while about 20 per cent have diverted their vacation destinations to the Far East because of the ongoing problems in getting into European Union (EU) countries, according to the report in the Gulf Daily News (GDN), our sister publication.
It comes amid reports that visa appointments at the German, French and Italian embassies are booked solid throughout the summer, meaning people planning to travel after Ramadan cannot get visas.
Difficulty in issuing visas has also been increased by changes made to the Schengen Borders Code, which came into effect last Friday.
Kanoo Travel said some customers refuse to book airline tickets out of fear of not receiving visas on time.
"Some of our clients don't want to book their tickets," said holiday consultant Huda Alsamak.
"They're too worried about getting the appointment and getting the visa on time. Approximately 30pc of our customers have had to change their departure date because of delays in visa.
"Twenty to 30pc have had to change their destination. They end up asking us for places with no visa or an easy visa, so we suggest Jordan, Thailand, and Malaysia."
Alsamak said some of the problems they face are caused by embassies demanding specific information from travellers.
"The French and German embassies make it quite difficult," she said. "They ask for flights and accommodation to be booked in advance. We do so, but then when the customer goes to the embassy, they are told that they want the booking straight from the hotel and not through a travel agency.
"It causes a lot of issues, double the workload for us, and delays in the visa for the customers."
Similar problems were reported by Dadabhai Travel.
"There are no appointments available until September," said regional operations manager Nitin Menon.
"It started getting fully booked in June and now there are no appointments available anymore. Anyone who (needs a visa and) wants to go to the EU can't.
"We have had people booking holidays to places in Asia instead, including Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka."
Menon said the problem was endemic and has not changed since last year. "It was like this last year as well," he said. "The pressure of the summer holidays means the appointments are booked and people wait a long time for visas."
The problems with getting visas come in the wake of changes made to the Schengen Borders Code, which came into effect last Friday. An International Air Transport Association statement said non-EU nationals travelling into the EU have to present a travel document valid for at least three months after the departure date from the Schengen territory.
"It will affect airlines operations, as they bear the responsibility of verifying the validity of their passenger's travel documents at embarkation," it added. "It will impact tourism in Europe in general and create significant confusion for passengers."
However, travel agencies and airlines, including national carrier Gulf Air, downplayed the rule changes, saying most people applying for Schengen visas from Bahrain usually get a six-month visa validity.
"Gulf Air does not anticipate that many passengers will be affected by the change in the Schengen entry requirements," read a Gulf Air statement.
"In most cases the issuing authority will only grant a Schengen visa with an expiry date that is a minimum of three months prior to the expiration date of the passport."
Embassies issuing Schengen visas in Bahrain could not be reached for comment when contacted by the GDN yesterday. – TradeArabia News Service