Starting from Friday, the country has begun granting tourist visas to those able to travel to the country by chartered flight.
Tourists wishing to travel to India on regular commercial flights will have to wait for another month until 15 November, the country’s home ministry said in a statement issued last week.
The government said it had decided to ease the restrictions on visas and international travel after consultations with various departments, allowing foreign tourists to enter the country just in time for the start of India’s high season, when tourism represents a major contribution to the economy.
It remains unclear if tourists will have to undergo additional quarantine or testing measures for Covid-19. Under the current protocol for those entering India on other types of visa and from most other countries, travellers are required to show they are negative for Covid with an RT-PCR test up to 72 hours prior to travel and be tested again on arrival.
The decision to ease the restrictions comes as the country has shown a steady decline in the daily coronavirus cases from a peak of 400,000 in May to about 20,000. The country has administered more than 970 million doses of coronavirus vaccine since it began its inoculation drive in January this year with nearly 70 per cent of its eligible population having received at least a single dose.
India saw a decline of 75 per cent in the number of foreign tourists visiting the country in 2020 – unsurprisingly so, given the country was only open to tourists for the first two and a half months of the year.
In a bid to boost the pandemic-hit tourism sector, the Ministry of Finance announced in June that whenever borders reopened the first 500,000 tourists would have the fee for their visa waived.
There are some concerns, however, that a possible influx of foreign travellers will coincide with both the most active domestic tourism and festive seasons. Health officials continue to warn against complacency over Covid-19, and some experts fear tourism hotspots could contribute to a third wave of the pandemic.
India is not the only country to see its tourism sector pummelled by the pandemic. According to a joint report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), the crash in international tourist arrivals since the pandemic began could cost the world economy a total of $4 trillion by the end of 2021.
Meanwhile other popular south and southeast Asian tourist destinations continue to open up. Indonesia’s Bali has opened to fully vaccinated foreign tourists from 19 countries, albeit with some fairly strict rules for travellers to follow. And starting 1 November, Thailand is planning to end its quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers from 10 low-risk nations.
Additional reporting by agencies