NEW DELHI – India is reopening its doors to foreign tourists in a bid to revive the tourism sector, which has been in the doldrums for 18 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The government announced Thursday, October 7 that tourist visas would be available for foreigners arriving on charter flights from October 15 and for those arriving on regular commercial flights from November 15.
Currently India has not fully restored international flights. The frequency of flights is still well below pre-pandemic levels, with airlines largely carrying out repatriation flights.
Last month, the government announced that the first half a million foreign tourists would receive free visas.
All visitors and air carriers bringing them to India as well as other landing station stakeholders must adhere to Covid-19 protocols with relaxation of restrictions, the government said.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected all sectors of the Indian economy but tourism has been among the most affected.
A study by the Confederation of Indian Industry and hotel consultancy Hotelivate found that the travel and tourism industry and the entire value chain related to the sector suffered losses totaling 65.57 billion US dollars (S $ 89 billion).
Some 21.5 million people lost their jobs in the nine-month period from April 2020 to December 2020, according to a study by the National Council for Applied Economic Research for the Ministry of Tourism.
India imposed a strict lockdown in March last year, shutting down economic activity and cross-border movement for 21 days, causing major disruption to the economy. The country was then hit by a devastating second wave of Covid-19 just as it opened and the economy recovered.
Tourism professionals welcomed the government’s announcement on Thursday, but also noted that it was essential to remove restrictions on scheduled international flights.
The managing director of Indigo, India’s largest passenger airline in terms of market share, Mr Ronojoy Dutta, recently said that carriers were only operating about 20% of their international flights before the pandemic in China. departure from India. This has led to more than doubling the prices on some lines in a context of increased demand.
Mr. Subhash Goyal, president of the STIC Travel group of companies and tourism expert, welcomed the announcement, but did not expect an immediate reprieve for the tourism industry.
“Currently, the flights are crowded with repatriated passengers. For tourists, the need is to simultaneously start regular international flights. Right now for students, a flight from Toronto, which typically costs 50,000 rupees (S $ 903), costs an average of 400,000 rupees. to go to Singapore, a passenger must first go to Dubai and take a flight to Singapore, “Goyal said.
“How do you bring tourists from all over the world to India when there are no direct flights between India and many countries? It requires a holistic approach. Yet something is better than nothing,” he said. he added.
India has opened up gradually over the past year, signing air bubble deals with more than two dozen countries, operating repatriation flights and allowing foreigners to travel to India but not tourists. .
Thursday’s decision comes as Covid-19 infection rates have remained relatively low in the country. India reported 21,257 new cases and 271 deaths within 24 hours through Friday, the health ministry said.
He noted that the cure rate for patients was 97.96%, the highest since March 2020. At the height of the second wave, the number of daily cases climbed to more than 400,000 nationwide.
Low infection rates have already led to a recovery in domestic tourism and Mr. Dipak Deva, managing director of Travel Corporation of India, called Thursday’s announcement a “critical decision” for inbound tourism.