NEW DELHI: Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday said India will issue free tourist visa for 5 lakh tourists once visa issuance is resumed.
“Once international travel resumes, first 5 lakh tourists will not have to pay the visa fees,” said the Finance Minister during a press conference in New Delhi when she also announced a slew of economic relief measures to help the tourism industry, which has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic.“The scheme will be applicable till March 31, 2022, or will be closed after issuing first 5 lakh visas. One tourist can avail benefit only once,” said Nirmala Sitharaman. According to her, the total financial implication from this exercise would be around Rs 100 crore.
Apart from giving free of charge visas to tourists, Sitharaman also announced other measures to support the tourism sector. She stated the government will provide financial support to more than 11,000 registered travel guides/travel and tourism stakeholders.
“Under the new Loan Guarantee Scheme for COVID-affected sectors, working capital/ personal loans will be provided to people in the tourism sector to discharge liabilities and restart businesses impacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” noted the finance minister.
This scheme is expected to cover 10,700 regional level tourist guides that have been recognised by the Ministry of Tourism and Tourist Guides and tourist guides recognised by the state governments. Financial support will also be provided to 904 Travel and Tourism Stakeholders (TTS) that have been recognised by the Tourism Ministry.
Sitharaman explained that 10.93 million foreign tourists had visited India in 2019 and had spent $30.098 billion on leisure and business. The average daily stay for a foreign tourist in India is 21 days. The average daily spending of a tourist in India is around $34 (Approx, Rs 2,400).
Travel has been among the worst victims of the pandemic. The Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH), an apex body of the Indian tourism industry, warned that almost 70 per cent of the country’s estimated workforce of 5.5 crores (direct and indirect jobs) in the tourism sector could lose jobs amid the coronavirus pandemic.It had said the Indian tourism industry is staring at bankruptcies, closure of businesses and mass unemployment. Over Rs 5 lakh crores of the direct tourism industry and almost double that of total economic activity is at risk.
According to the Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India, almost half of all hotels and restaurants in the country have shut down permanently. Airlines and airport operators are struggling to survive. With no inbound tourist business, travel agents, tour guides and everyone connected to the travel sector is facing a tough time.
“The government’s proposal to provide free tourist visas to the first 5 lakh tourists, once visa issuance resumes, is a welcome first step that will help revive India’s inbound tourism, which has been on a halt since the onset of the pandemic,” said Mandeep S Lamba, HVS ANAROCK president (South Asia).
in March 2021, India saw the highest volume of tourists in from Bangladesh (28.80 per cent), followed by USA (22.10 per cent), UK (6.50 per cent), Afghanistan (6.34 per cent), Nepal (4.34 per cent) Canada (3.74 per cent), Iraq (2.12 per cent), Portugal (1.78 per cent), Germany (1.56 per cent), Maldives (1.27 per cent), France (1.00 per cent), Australia (0.86 per cent), Italy (0.86 per cent) and Kenya (0.82 per cent).
However, the total number of tourists declined almost 58 per cent because of the Covid-19 pandemic.