Although there was no surprise element as grapevine was alive for some time about reopening of e-tourist visa facilities suspended mid last year at the peak of the pandemic, the travel and tourism industry breathed a sigh of relief with the MHA notification coming out in black and white. There was a lot of pressure on the government from all quarters to reopen as the country has more or less contained the killer Covid-19 pandemic and made rapid strides in vaccinating the eligible population. Moreover, keeping the borders closed indefinitely was not making sense economically for the country.
The trade and industry associations in the tourism sector have been consistently demanding lifting of the restrictions. Similarly, states like Goa for which tourism is the mainstay of the economy has been putting pressure on the government to open at least the international charter flights so that the local economy can reboot and revive. Loss of another tourism season would have serious consequences on the economy of the state.
Although it is still unclear whether there will be enough demand for Incredible India in the international market considering international long haul travel is still restricted in many countries and regions, the move by the government will give some purpose to the destination marketers to go out and promote to the world. However, there are skeptics who question how opening an e-tourist visa alone will help the cause without resumption of scheduled international flights with different international destinations.But all these do not deter industry from welcoming the decision with open arms. “After a long journey of almost 18 months of pandemic, inbound tourism is set to begin from November 15. 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. This coupled with the first free 0.5 mn free e-tourist visas should act as a jump start especially coming in the beginning of the peak season,” the tourism industry federation, FAITH, said in a statement. “We look forward to a healthy start to inbound tourism and given no third wave hope all countries encourage visitation,” said Nakul Anand, Chairman, FAITH.
Rajiv Mehra, President, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO) also expressed relief in the announcement. “We welcome the announcement and extend our heartfelt thanks to the government. However, along with the e-visas we would want the government to fully operationalise the international flights as was the case prior to March 2020 as presently the international airfares are too high which will be a big impediment towards normalisation of tourism flow. 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.”Not very sure of the results of the delayed announcement, Subhash Goyal, former Secretary of FAITH, has said that while the announcement is welcome as “something is better than nothing” for an industry which is going through a deep crisis, the results are difficult to predict. “International charters require a lot of back to back planning and execution. It’s a complete series that happens through the season,” he said.
Tourism and Civil Aviation have to move together in a synchronised manner. Therefore, opening the e-visas for regular tourists without announcing the date for resuming scheduled international flights would not produce the desired results, he stated.