It has been eight months since India has banned its international scheduled flights due to the pandemic, and since then a lot has changed in how we function and travel. Though India is not the only country that has closed its borders to the international public, it is about time the world does open up for its tourist sectors but with much extra precaution and rigorous testing.
After banning all of the existing visas to India in the month of March as a precautionary measure, the Centre started the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) on May 6. VBM was started as a repatriation measure to rescue citizens of India who were stuck in foreign countries, this mission which is currently in its seventh phase will continue until January 21, 2021.
“Vande Bharat Mission, the biggest repatriation mission of its kind has facilitated international travel of more than 29.40 lakh people since May 6, 2020. It continues to reach out to more people across the world every day” said Hardeep S Puri in his recent tweet.
The government then began facilitating air bubble arrangements between countries, to allow non-Indians to fly to India but under special conditions, India has now established air bubbles with 21 countries. Air bubbles are arrangements made between two countries to allow their citizens to come to India which is open for only a select few visa categories.
The 21 countries that Indians can now travel to are Afghanistan, Bhutan, the USA, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, the Netherlands, Canada, Iraq, Kenya, Oman, and Ukraine depending on the restrictions of the
International scheduled flights have been banned until the end of November and the DGCA says that it may be banned until March 201 (with tourists and e-visas in the hope to begin earlier). India has now restored all of the existing visas – except electronic, tourist, and medical visas. The Union Home Ministry decided to permit all overseas citizens of India (OCI) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) and all other foreigners to enter except tourist visas to enter by air or water routes through authorized airports and seaport immigration check posts.
Why should India save its tourism industry?
The tourism industry is one of the biggest sectors in our economy, with an inflow of US $45.7 billion in the year 2018, it accounts for 5.9% of the total investment in the country. The sector also accounts for 8.0% of the total employment in our country. According to WTC, India ranks tenth amongst 185 countries and the tourism’s total contribution to the GDP in the year 2019. The tourism sector alone was 6.8% of the country’s total economy, but this sector due to pandemic has put a halt to due to the pandemic.
During 2019, the Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA) in India stood at 10.89 million, with a growth rate of 3.20%, and tourists arriving through e-visas increased by 23.6% to 2.9 million. This has all been put to a long dreadful halt due to the coronavirus pandemic which resulted in a drastic rise in unemployment and a lull in the tourism and hospitality sector of our country.
In a recent session organized by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Suman Billa the director of United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) said that global experts believe that the recovery of the tourism industry will only take place by the end of the next year or early 2022. This could be pushed back even more with the impact of this on our economy. The pandemic has deeply impacted the international tourism, which accounts for a strong majority has shifted the focus of the government to push and promote domestic tourism.
Rupinder Brar, the Additional Director General of the Minister of Tourism added that the slow easing of international travel restrictions in the future will result in intense competition as countries will target the same markets, which calls in for an aggressive strategy to focus the intense use of technology to promote that India is a safe destination for tourists.
The pandemic has hit a strong blow to the tourism industry, forcing several into unemployment and the airline industries all across the world take a major blow.
This goes to prove that the Indian government is further pushing the need with easing restrictions for International travellers by setting up RT-PCR test stations in airports for those who wish to get tested for negative results to skip institutional quarantine. Those who are flying without getting tested prior as requested can now take their tests at the airport, and also fill out their forms in their flights. This has been received as a great relief to travellers who wish to fly, and not worry about heavy administrations and documents.
On October 29, Hardeep S Puri, in a press conference said that the DCGA is trying its best to bring back tourist and e-visas as soon as possible, depending upon the nature of how the pandemic behaves in our country.
The no-fly ban separating loved ones and families
With India banning the tourist visas, and e-visas several star-crossed lovers and families who are not in the categories of the current visas being allowed have been drastically affected. The separation, anxiety, and the uncertainty of when they are going to see their loved ones have been miserably latching on to them for over 8 months since the ban. A group of members on Twitter have been constantly tweeting every day, emailing, and phoning the Ministry of External Affairs to get the attention of reopening the tourist visas so they can meet their loved ones.
The hashtag #LoveisNotTourism has been flooding Twitter with several other countries restricting their visas and partially closing their borders to the ones that want to visit; several change.org petitions and ideas have been put out to help the government to come to a conclusion on when to open their international flights.
With the tourism industry on a decline, and void of international travellers the culture and diversity of India’s tourist districts have also been experiencing a major loss.
The government of India must start its process of restoring its international connectivity as soon as possible, as it affects not only the economy, but several other factors like people being separated from their loved ones and their psychological well-being, the mass unemployment in the tourism and hospitality sector, and several others.
A bright ray of hope shall only arise, when there is a possibility of vaccine and the number of cases recorded all over the world, which does not look very bleak as the announcement of Pfizer’s vaccine and COVAXIN in India and also the number of active cases falling less than 5 lakh, it seems like there is a strong possibility that things may become better faster than we had imagined them to be.