Covid: India opens for international travel — what happens next?

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

The Ministry of Interior announced that tourist visas will be issued to those arriving on charter flights first, while travelers on commercial flights will start obtaining their approved visas from November.

“Foreign tourists entering India via flights other than chartered aircraft will only be able to do so from November 15 on new tourist visas,” a statement from the Home Office said. Until then, only dedicated cargo flights and commercial flights agreed in the bilateral air bubble agreements will be operated.

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

Travel industry looks forward to reopening

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“The hotel chain has been able to survive, but it has been much more difficult for the smaller establishments. But now the local tourists are coming back and things are starting to get better,” said Mark, who runs Airbnb at the air travel hub.

“Although Covid is not over yet, we are keen for tourists to return, while following all safety protocols,” he told DW. “We don’t expect to rise to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon.”

The travel and tourism industry in India has been severely affected by the pandemic. With travel now open in time for the holiday season, people working in the sector are feeling optimistic about the acceleration of business.

“Unlike other markets, which are booming since the lockdown was lifted, shopkeepers are here [at Paharganj market in Delhi] “They have no business at all, as 80 per cent of the business in the market is dependent on foreign tourists,” Subhash Vij, head of the Paharganj Traders Authority told India’s Hindustan Times. The market is usually frequented by backpackers and travelers on a budget.

Less than 3 million foreign tourists visited India in 2020, a drop of nearly 75 percent compared to the previous year. The government plans to issue 500,000 free visas to boost tourism, which is expected to motivate short-term travelers to visit India.

“The real impact and damage from the pandemic can never be measured in numbers. It has destroyed the fraternity of travel, but now we are waiting for brighter times. “I would say that no real comparison can be made,” Jyoti Mayal, president of the Association of Travel Agents of India, told DW. To assess losses only after the sector is fully revived, which I believe will take at least two years.”

Fear of another wave of infections

After the devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, vaccination rates in India have soared and the number of cases has remained at a low level. India recently passed an important milestone of 1 billion doses of vaccine administered. More than 30% of the eligible population has been fully vaccinated.

The travel fraternity has been hardest hit by the pandemic. With the travel door reopening, the travel trade is also preparing to restart, job creation and entrepreneurship. “All countries should have perfectly coordinated policies, ease of travel, and information should be provided to travelers,” said Jyoti Mayal.

However, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has warned of a possible increase in infection if safety and hygiene protocols are not adhered to.

“A sudden increase in population density due to tourist arrivals or mass gatherings for social, political or religious reasons could exacerbate the third wave scenario,” said the International Conference on Christian Medicine.

The agency suggested monitoring in high-risk areas. In addition, ICMR wants to follow strict testing procedures in order to avoid an increase in cases.

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