Tuesday, November 16, 2021

India opens to foreign tourists; response to be lukewarm, says travel industry

India has begun issuing tourist visas to overseas travellers over a year after suspending them since the onset of the Covid pandemic in the country, but Indian travel service providers catering to the segment said the response has been very lukewarm so far.

Last month, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had said it would begin granting fresh tourist visas to foreigners coming to India through chartered flight with effect from October 15. It had also said that foreign tourists coming to India from flights other than chartered aircraft would be able to do so with effect from November 15.

"The rules have been inconsistent and the air bubble arrangement flights are full. The fares are also very steep. Why would tourists come at these rates? None of our overseas partners have expressed any interest. Customers have choices and the other countries have been easing restrictions. They also want to rebuild their share of the travel pie," said Rajeev Kohli, joint MD of Creative Travel that specialises in inbound travel.

Jyoti Mayal, president of the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) said she would be writing a letter to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of External Affairs and three other ministries on Tuesday urging them to resume scheduled commercial international flights. "Air bubble flights won't be sufficient and competitive enough. Essential travel will happen but tourism won't happen unless flight prices become resonable. Leisure travellers won't come otherwise," she added.

Rajiv Mehra, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) said the air bubble flight fares are probably three to four times more than the normal fares. "The government must look at operating the flights as per the bilateral agreements which were place before March last year. Also, e tourist visas are not being given to Canada and the UK. The UK is a big source market. The response would be low and it could stay so for months," he added.

15/11/21 Anumeha Chaturvedi/Economic Times

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