India mulls ‘calibrated reopening’ for foreign tourists from Covid safe countries

2021-02-18 17:08:18

NEW DELHI: India could soon reopen its doors for foreign tourists from countries where Covid situation is under control, by following all required health protocol.
Top government officials say inter-ministerial talks are currently on for a “calibrated resumption of tourist visas on a country-specific basis.”
India had suspended most visas issued to foreigners in March last year due to the Covid pandemic.
In the past few months it has allowed foreigners with certain visa types — except tourist — to travel here.
“The Union home, external affairs, health, aviation and tourism ministries are having discussions to finalise the proposed calibrated reopening for tourists visa holders. While tourists only from certain countries are likely to be allowed initially, the protocol for those coming here is being worked out in terms of quarantine and other health requirements. We are mulling issues like whether those coming with a negative report (as per requirement) and proof of having received the required number of Covid vaccine jabs need to be quarantined; if yes, for how long; or not. Several such things are being discussed,” said a top official.
Among the worst hit by the pandemic, India’s tourism and aviation industries — airlines and airports — have been seeking reopening of international tourism. Domestic tourism was allowed a few months back and is currently the only lifeline — albeit a very strong one — for the industry.
“It is crucial to reopen India for international tourists within the norms of safety as required during Covid. We are at the moment doing below average rate business. Hotels in leisure destinations (like Goa, Rajasthan and Kerala) have 65% to 70% occupancy because of strong revenge travel by domestic travellers. City hotels have 30-35% occupancy (due to weak business travel) and overall occupancy is about 50%,” said Nakul Anand, ITC executive director and chairman of Federation of Associations of Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH) at an event of the tourism body in Delhi on Thursday.
Pre-pandemic 2019 saw 1.8 crore international tourist arrivals, with 57% of them coming for leisure and recreation. The top 10 source markets for India, that account for 70% of foreign tourist arrivals, include Bangladesh, US, UK, Australia and Malaysia.
A joint report by the Union tourism ministry and FAITH says international tourism activity may return to pre-Covid levels in 2-3 years. “In 2020, international tourism activity worldwide declined by over 70% reaching levels prevalent 30 years ago. Although countries have begun to partially lift travel restrictions, international travel demand is forecast to remain subdued… Domestic tourism will be the driver of travel and tourism in the interim,” it says.
International travel took 11 months to recover (return to level seen before a black swan event) from the lows it hit during SARS; 14 months from 9/11, and 19 months from the 2008-09 global economic crisis. Given the global spread of Covid, recovery could take upto 3 years, the reports says.
Indian airline and airport operators have also been seeking re-allowing of international tourists by taking all required precautions. Barring a few states, India is among the few countries that have been able to control the spread of Covid.

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