Tourism industry welcomes the move to restart issuing of visas to overseas tourists

Tourism industry welcomes the move to restart issuing of visas to overseas tourists

While welcoming the ‘much awaited’ move of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to resume the issuing of visas to overseas tourists, tour operators and travel service providers said they also expect the government to now announce the resumption of regular scheduled commercial international flights.

MHA announced on Thursday that it will begin granting fresh tourist visas to foreigners wanting to come to India through chartered flights with effect from October 15.

Foreign tourists travelling to India by flights other than chartered aircraft would be able to do so from November 15. The ministry further stated that all Covid-19 protocols and norms notified by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare will have to be adhered to by foreign tourists and carriers bringing them into India and other stakeholders at landing stations.

But the ban on scheduled commercial international passenger services is continuing. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had extended the ban till October 31.

Rajiv Mehra, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), a body representing over 1600 operators handling overseas tourists said while the association welcomes the announcement, along with the e-visas, it would also want the government to fully operationalise the international flights as was the case prior to March last year.

“Presently the international airfares are too high which will be a big impediment towards normalisation of tourism flow,” said Mehra. “We appeal to the government to resume international flight operations and all airlines should be allowed to start operating their flights as per the bilateral agreement that was in place before March 2020 so that foreign tourists who want to visit our country can book their tickets at competitive rates,” he added.

Nakul Anand, chairman of the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH), the policy federation of all the national associations representing the tourism, travel and hospitality industry of India said Indian tourism, which had seen almost 11 million international inbound tourists and almost $30 billion in foreign exchange was shut down since March last year creating ‘severe’ financial distress for the tourism travel and hospitality industry.

“All FAITH Associations constantly engaged with all stakeholders of the government constantly emphasising to reopen borders to international tourists and begin issuing e tourist visas once the Covid situation came under control and vaccinations picked up,” said Anand.

“We look forward to a healthy start to inbound tourism and given there is no third wave, we hope all countries will encourage visitation,” he added.

Jyoti Mayal, president of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) said her association had been following up with various ministries and had given innumerable representations on the matter.

“We had told them to atleast announce a date as other countries start planning in advance and we shouldn’t lose out on the entire season. This is peak season for us. We are keeping our fingers crossed. We should all keep following the correct procedures and protocols so that international borders don’t open and shut again,” she added.

But Subhash Goyal, chairman of STIC Travel and Air Charter Group said there was no point of announcing tourist visas without announcing scheduled commercial international flights. “The tourists coming through chartered flights to India are low-yield, low-spending passengers and very small in numbers. Out of the almost 11 million tourists that came to India in 2019, those coming via chartered flights were not even a million,” he said.

“They should have simultaneously allowed the restarting of scheduled commercial international flights, else the season is gone. 50% of the tourists come to India between October to March. Airlines would also need a month to plan. The existing air bubble arrangements are primarily catering to repatriation passengers or those travelling for urgent matters and the carriers are charging through the nose. The tourists will not come on these flights,” he added.

Rajeev Kohli, joint MD of Creative Travel that specialises in inbound travel said the move was long overdue. “This signal that we are opening is the moral boost that we in the Indian industry needed. Now we await for the nitty gritty of the rules. I hope all countries will be allowed. I hope we just need vaccination certificates and RT PCR tests. Let’s be open minded. We are known for Atithi Devo Bhava so let’s live upto that slogan, he added.

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