COVID: India opens its doors to international travel – what happens next? | Asia | An in-depth look at current events from across the continent | DW

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After nearly 18 months of closure, India finally opened its borders to fully vaccinated foreign tourists on October 15.

The Home Office said tourist visas would be issued first to people arriving on chartered flights, while travelers on commercial flights would start getting their visas approved from November.

“Foreign tourists entering India by flights other than chartered planes could not do so until November 15, with new tourist visas,” said a statement from the Ministry of the Interior. Until then, only dedicated cargo flights and commercial flights agreed to in bilateral air bubble pacts will work.

Government data shows international travelers brought in $ 30 billion (€ 25.87 billion) in foreign currency in 2019. After the pandemic and the resulting lockdown, revenues fell by more than 76% , to reach around $ 7 billion in 2020.

Travel industry is eagerly awaiting reopening

“The hotel chains may have survived, but it has been a lot harder for small businesses. But now domestic tourists are coming back and things are starting to improve,” said Mark, who runs an Airbnb in the plaque. tour of Goa travels.

“Even though COVID is not over, we are eager to collect tourists, while following all safety protocols,” he told DW. “We don’t plan to reach pre-pandemic levels any time soon.”

India’s travel and tourism industry has been deeply affected by the pandemic. With travel opening just in time for the holiday season, people working in the industry are optimistic about the resumption of business.

“Unlike other markets, which have prospered since the lockdown was lifted, traders here [at Paharganj market in Delhi] have no business at all, because 80% of the business in the market depended on foreign tourists, ”Subhash Vij, chairman of the Paharganj traders organization, told Indian newspaper. Hindustan times. The market is generally frequented by backpackers and budget travelers.

Less than 3 million foreign tourists visited India in 2020, a drop of almost 75% from the previous year. The government plans to issue 500,000 free visas to boost tourism, which should encourage short-term travelers to visit India.

“The real impact and damage caused by the pandemic can never be measured in numbers. It devastated the travel fraternity, but now we are waiting for better times. I would say that a true comparison to assess the losses cannot be made that once the sector revives completely, which I think will take at least two years, ”Jyoti Mayal, president of the Travel Agents Association of India, told DW.

Fear of a new wave of infections

After a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, vaccination rates in India have increased and the number of cases remains low. India recently passed the important milestone of one billion doses of vaccine administered. Over 30% of the eligible population has been fully immunized.

“The travel fraternity has been hit the hardest due to the pandemic. With the reopening of travel, the travel industry is also preparing to restart and create jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. All countries should ideally have policies. Contact details, ease of travel and information should be made available to travelers, ”said Jyoti Mayal.

However, the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) has warned of a potential increase in infections if safety and hygiene protocols are not followed.

“A sudden increase in population density due to incoming tourists or a mass congregation for social, political or religious reasons can worsen the third wave scenario,” ICMR said.

The organization suggested surveillance in risk areas. In addition, the ICMR wants strict testing procedures to be followed in order to avoid an increase in cases.

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