After 18 months of restrictions, the Indian government will grant tourist visas to foreigners beginning October 15th. The decision was announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Thursday and comes after a gradual increase in domestic air traffic and a decrease in COVID cases in the country. Those in the tourism industry have welcomed this move, hoping for a boost in the economy through tourist dollars.
Indian authorities have given the go-ahead to international tourists to fly into the country. Photo: Bill Larkins via Wikimedia Commons
One step at a time
While certainly an important decision, the Indian government hasn’t exactly opened the floodgates to tourists as of now. Starting October 15th, India will issue tourist visas to foreigners arriving on chartered flights only. All the rest who rely on regular non-charter commercial flights will be allowed to travel as tourists beginning November 15th.
The Home Ministry took advice from various stakeholders, including the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Ministry of Tourism, before coming to a decision.
“MHA had been receiving representations from several State Governments as well as various stakeholders in the tourism sector to start Tourist Visas also, to allow foreign tourists to come to India. After deliberations we have decided to ease travel restrictions.” – Senior official, Home Ministry
The first 500,000 tourists can expect their visas to be issued free of charge, as was announced by India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in June this year. The government has decided to forgo around $13.3 million in revenue by this decision to boost international tourism again.
While international tourism in India has been halted since March 2020, any chances of it coming back were further squashed by the deadly second COVID wave earlier this year. Since then, India has gradually allowed some international travel in the form of bubble arrangements. But even then, it has been mostly restricted to business travelers, students, and diplomats.
Scheduled international travel to/from India remains suspended. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying
Even now, the government probably wants to wait for the festive season to get over before allowing tourists in large numbers after November 15th. The authorities are most likely waiting for the festival-related crowds to subside to avoid any further COVID outbreaks. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has also laid down protocols to be followed by states, tourists, and the carriers flying them into the country.
It’s also interesting to note that scheduled international flights to/from India remain suspended until the end of this month. While the government has allowed international tourists to visit again, it remains to be seen if it will also relax rules for scheduled international passenger services anytime soon.
Domestic traffic picks up
The appetite for domestic travel in India has been gradually increasing since the middle of this year. Simple Flying has been following the trajectory of domestic traffic in the country for the last few months, noting that it has only gone up.
This was expected, as COVID cases in the country have gone down and because of the timing of the festive season that airlines are known to milk to the fullest. Just a few days ago, social media was filled with images of long queues at Mumbai Airport. While it could be attributed to mismanagement or lack of resources at the airport, it was also a clear example of the growing confidence of Indians willing to take to the air again.
Mumbai airport this morning 🙄🙄 pic.twitter.com/f1jz0jisOM
— Anuj Singhal अनुज सिंघल (@_anujsinghal) October 8, 2021
According to a report by Moneycontrol, on October 9th, the daily domestic air passenger traffic in India crossed 300,000 for the first time since the COVID outbreak – around 76% of pre-COVID level.
Here’s hoping that Indian authorities are prepared to deal with a surge in tourism and equipped to keep the COVID situation under control.
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