The IATO president Pronab Sarkar said while outbound travel may dip by 50 per cent, domestic tourism will also go down by 60 per cent as Indians are cancelling their holiday plans amid fears of the Covid-19 disease. Some tour operators say that Covid scare has crippled travel industry with over 95-98 per cent bookings cancelled and offices of tour operators wearing a desolate look, despite it being a peak period (February-March) for outbound tourist destinations. Little doubt that many operators have trimmed their workforce with layoffs.
Alongside, sensex on March 9 tanked 1941 points which is the biggest ever one-day fall. The Sensex closed at 35,634 and the carnage in the equity market wiped out investors wealth worth 6,84,277 crores. The broader Nifty settled at 10,451 dropping 538 points or 4.90 per cent.
The Travel Agents Association of India has sought Centre’s intervention to resolve issues dealing with cancellations as reports poured in that over 95-98 per cent bookings had already been cancelled”. For vacations in April-July, people usually plan their holidays in February-March when they get the best rates for hotels and airlines. Among the most preferred destinations are Italy, Switzerland, Paris, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Bangkok. The SOTC India, one of the leading travel and tourism companies, has come out with flexi travel options. Daniel D’souza, president and country head of the company, says: “We have rolled out a scheme for new customers assuring them flexibility on departure dates.”
Outbound travel and domestic tourism in India is expected to take a hit of over $500 million due to the Covid-19 outbreak, according to Indian Association of Tourism Operators. IATO president Pronab Sarkar said while outbound travel may dip by 50 per cent, domestic tourism will also go down by 60 per cent as Indians are cancelling their holiday plans amid fears of the Covid-19 disease.
“If the situation continues for more months, this loss will be higher. Some high net-worth individuals in the country have already cancelled their international trips fearing the risk of catching the disease,” he said. “I feel media coverage has deteriorated the confidence of travellers in the country. Once reports of the disease being controlled globally come in, I expect tourism to bounce back.”
The demand slowdown has prompted tour operators, such as Yatra, Thomas Cook and SOTC, to offer various schemes such as zero cancellation fees, alternative destination packages and rescheduling options to travellers. “Customers are wary of making fresh bookings to the affected locations and airfares to these destinations have dropped by over 40 per cent. We have received close to 35 per cent cancellation queries for overseas trips. We are advising and helping customers to postpone their travel dates,” said Sabina Chopra, co-founder and COO, corporate travel and head industry relations, Yatra.com.
SOTC Travel said it was focusing on offering domestic packages such as Andaman Youth Special-backpackers, Himachal Spiti bike trip and Sikkim bike trip. It is also offering customers the flexibility on departure dates, but with caveats. “We also provide customers insurance cover for the full sum insured for Europe, USA, Africa, Australia and New Zealand,” said Daniel D’souza, president and country head, leisure, SOTC Travel.
Prior to outbreak of coronavirus, it was all gaga as for as tourism sector is concerned. It was only on March 2, 2020 that the Minister of State for Culture and Tourism, Prahlad Singh Patel in a written reply in Lok Sabha maintained that arrival of foreign tourists to India had picked up on year-to-year basis.
Foreign Tourist Arrivals (in Million) during 2017, 2018 and 2019 were 10.04, 10.56 and 10.89 respectively. Thus contrary to fears of slowdown in global economy hitting tourism, there has been no decline in Foreign Tourist Arrivals to India during the last three years. In fact, the number of foreign tourists visiting India has shot up.
Though destination wise tourist visits are not centrally maintained in the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, but the information as per every state is available with the ministry. Box shows details of top 10 States in terms of Foreign Tourist Visits (FTV) during 2018.
The Ministry of Tourism compiles Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) & FTAs on eTourist Visa on the basis of information received from Bureau of Immigration (BOI). The foreign tourist arrivals in April 2019 were 7,71,353 as compared to 7,45,051 in April 2018 registering a growth of 3.5 per cent. Similarly, the FTAs during the period January-April 2019 were 39,35,293 as compared to 38,60,871 in January- April 2018 registering a growth of 1.9 per cent.
The percentage share of Foreign Tourist Arrivals in India during April 2019 among the top 15 source countries was highest from Bangladesh (25.28 per cent) followed by UK (10.79 per cent), USA (10.52 per cent), Australia (3.57 per cent), Germany (3.16 per cent), China (3.08 per cent), Malaysia (2.83 per cent), Sri Lanka (2.81 per cent), Canada (2.52 per cent), Japan (2.36 per cent), France (2.19 per cent), Singapore (1.61 per cent), Thailand (1.61 per cent), Russian Fed (1.45 per cent) and Rep. of Korea (1.37 per cent).
The percentage share of Foreign Tourist Arrivals in India during April 2019 among the top 15 ports was highest at Delhi Airport (28.68 per cent) followed by Mumbai Airport (13.06 per cent), Haridaspur Land Check Post (11.05 per cent), Chennai Airport (6.90 per cent), Bengaluru Airport (6.11 per cent), Kolkata Airport (5.75 per cent), Cochin Airport (3.25 per cent), Gede Rail Land Check Post (2.85 per cent), Hyderabad Airport (2.56 per cent),Goa Airport (2.18 per cent), Ghojadanga Land Check Post (1.95 per cent), Cochin Seaport (1.71 per cent), Ahmedabad Airport (1.53 per cent), Agartala Land Check Post (1.25 per cent) and Trivandrum Airport (1.23 per cent).
Similarly, foreign tourists who arrived on e-Tourist Visa during the month of April, 2019 was 2,01,137 tourists as compared to 1,57,094 during the month of April, 2018 registering a growth of 28.0 per cent. During January- April 2019, a total of 11,08,665 tourist arrived on e-Tourist Visa as compared to 9,18,792 during January-April 2018, registering a growth of 20.7 per cent.
The percentage shares of top 15 source countries availing e-Tourist Visa facilities during April, 2019 were highest from UK (16.8 per cent), followed by USA (9.9 per cent), China (7.0 per cent), Germany (5.6 per cent), Australia (4.7 per cent), France (4.6 per cent), Malaysia (4.1 per cent), Canada (3.3 per cent), Thailand (3.2 per cent), Italy (2.9 per cent), Spain (2.2 per cent), Japan (1.9 per cent), Israel (1.8 per cent), Oman (1.7 per cent) and Singapore (1.7 per cent). The percentage shares of top 15 ports in tourist arrivals on e-Tourist Visa during April 2019 were highest from New Delhi Airport (46.4 per cent) followed by Mumbai Airport (16.3 per cent), Bengaluru Airport (7.0 per cent), Chennai Airport (6.3 per cent), Dabolim (Goa) Airport (3.6 per cent), Kochi Seaport (3.5 per cent), Kochi Airport (3.4 per cent), Kolkata Airport (2.6 per cent), Hyderabad Airport (2.2 per cent), Tirchy Airport (1.2 per cent) Amritsar Airport (1.2 per cent), Ahmedabad Airport (1.1 per cent), Trivandrum Airport (1.0 per cent), Mumbai Seapoart (0.9 per cent) and Sonauli Land Checkpost (0.6 per cent).
Though the Ministry of Tourism has taken various steps to attract foreign tourists to India, the development of tourist spots and improvement of infrastructure quality is primarily the responsibility of the concerned State Governments and Union Territory Administrations. However, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India under its schemes of Swadesh Darshan, PRASHAD and Assistance to Central Agencies, provides central financial assistance to State Governments,Union Territories and Central Agencies for development of tourism related infrastructure and facilities to provide an enriching tourism experience to visitors which would result in attracting more foreign tourist to India. The projects under the schemes are identified for development in consultation with State Governments and UT Administrations and are sanctioned subject to availability of funds.
The steps taken by the Ministry of Tourism to attract foreign tourist in the country include, extended E- Visa facility to citizens of several countries, ambitious scheme-The Incredible India 2.0 campaign launched with market specific promotional plans and content creation.
A 24×7 Toll Free Multi-Lingual Tourist Helpline 1800111363 launched in 10 International Languages and Hindi & English, organization of biennial International Buddhist Conclave, Annual International Tourism Mart for promotion of tourism in North Eastern States. Promotion of activities in tourist generating markets overseas through the India Tourism Offices abroad with active participation in International Tourism Events is also held to make India attractive to foreign tourists.
The figures show that India is gaining popularity among overseas travellers as foreign tourist arrivals grew by 3.23 per cent to 96,69,633 during January-November 2019. The government has introduced a new five-year e-tourist visa with USD 80 fee and a one year e-tourist visa with USD 40 fee and is also offering the option of a short-term as well as long-term tourist e-visa. Agreeing to a proposal of the Tourism Ministry a short duration e-visa for tourists with one-month validity at a charge of USD 25 has been introduced.
India’s rank in Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index (TTCI) of the World Economic Forum has moved to 34th rank in 2019 from 65th in 2013. The ministry had taken other steps like opening 120 new peaks for mountaineering, reducing e–visa fees and GST rates on hotel room bookings, among others, to boost inbound tourism.
Also the government reduced GST on hotel rooms with tariffs of 1,001-7,500 per night to 12 per cent, while that above 7,501 bracket to 18 per cent. Similarly, foreign exchange earnings (FEEs) during the January- November 2019, grew by 7.4 per cent to 1,88,364 crores compared to 1,75,407 crores in the same period the previous year.
The government sanctioned 77 projects for the development of thematic circuits for an amount of Rs 6,035.70 crores under the Swadesh Darshan Scheme. The ministry also said that integrated development of identified pilgrimage destinations is being undertaken under the ‘National Mission on Pilgrimage Rejuvenation and Spiritual, Heritage Augmentation Drive’ (PRASHAD) Scheme.
Reducing e-visa fee, opening up Himalayan peaks, signages in foreign languages, illuminating ASI sites at night and promoting India’s culture abroad, the tourism ministry went all out this year to ensure it achieves its target of increasing global tourist arrivals to around 20 million by 2020. Touted as the big-ticket offering for those seeking adventure on high altitudes, the the government opened for foreigners 137 Himalayan peaks, including the mighty Kanchenjunga located at a height of 8,589 m, for mountaineering expeditions and trekking. The list of peaks include Dunagiri (7,066 m) and Hardeol (7,151 m) in Uttarakhand; Kabru South and North in Sikkim, both of which are at a height of over 7,000 m; Mount Kailash (6400 m) in Jammu and Kashmir; and Mulkila (6,571 m) in Himachal Pradesh.
At present, foreigners have to seek permission from the ministries of defence and home to climb these peaks. With the government opening them up, foreigners can now directly apply to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation for permits. Tourism Minister Prahlad Patel, who had pushed for the move, labeled it as a historic step that will give a big boost to tourism.
Sr. No. State FTV during 2018 (Revised)
1 Tamil Nadu 6074345
2 Maharshtra 5078514
3 Uttar Pradesh 3780752
4 Delhi 2740502
5 Rajasthan 1754348
6 West Bengal 1617105
7 Punjab 1200969
8 Kerala 1096407
9 Bihar 1087971
10 Goa 933841
The ministry is now developing lesser-known destinations so that visitors have more alternatives to consider when they think of travelling to India. Top on the list are places in Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, Kargil — which after their new found UT status is open to investments and unexplored territories.
However, restriction on movement imposed due to coronavirus threat is impacting tourism many parts of the country.
It also announced a blanket ban to visits to Nathula pass on the Indo-China border. In 2019, more than 1.2 million Indian tourists visited Sikkim and the number of foreigners visiting Sikkim stood at 133,388.
Among the foreigners, Bangladeshis accounted for 60,542 visitors followed by Nepal with 56,781 visitors. The others came from USA (2250), Germany (1674), UK (1412), Australia (1129), France (1121), Thailand (899), Malaysia (744) and Canada (568).
The tourist hot spots like Agra, Delhi and Jaipur, tourism in Goa — already plagued by low footfall this winter — seems to be taking a hit, with rising cancellations and travel plans going haywire. While hotels are seeing cancellations, bookings have slowed down as well. Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) president Savio Messias says, “There have been cancellations. Our members have been complaining about cancellations of domestic and foreign tourists, but mainly foreigners who fear having to visit multiple airports during a long-haul flight. Bookings have got slower too, while people are trying to postpone their trips.”