The move to open the doors to foreign tourists through free visas, for the first time in one-and-a-half years, is a welcome development as it is expected to revive tourism, hospitality, and aviation sectors, the worst affected during the pandemic. The steady decline in the fresh Covid-19 cases, coupled with the vaccination drive gaining momentum, has created a favourable environment to open these sectors. The free visa move is expected to incentivise short-term tourists visiting India. While waiving the visa fees for the first five lakh foreigners is an attractive offer, it needs to be followed with a series of measures to ensure a robust medical infrastructure. An urgent sprucing up of the facilities is needed to win the confidence of the coveted guests on this crucial score. Tie-ups of hotels, tourist spots and other stakeholders with hospitals ensuring prompt medical attention could be a good selling point. There is a need to revive the tourism industry which has been tottering on the brink of collapse. Many countries, including some of those in Europe, have already opened this sector. Before the pandemic broke out, the tourism industry accounted for 10.4% of the global GDP, generated more than 320 million employment opportunities worldwide and was the third-largest export sector, accounting for 7% of global trade in 2019. In India, it contributed 6.9% to the GDP and employed 8.8% of the total workforce. There was a massive 97% fall in foreign tourist arrivals in India from March to December 2020 compared with the corresponding period the previous year.
As a result, there was a 76% decline in foreign exchange earnings in 2020 compared with the previous year. A study by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) has found that almost 22 million jobs were lost in the three quarters of 2020-21 after the imposition of lockdown. The stimulus packages announced by the government have not been very helpful to the millions of workers. Moreover, there is a need to cut down on regulatory compliances required to set up tourism-related ventures. Many marginal businesses, including hotel operators, tour operators and tour guides, have taken a severe beating and are on the edge of collapse. The National Restaurant Association of India has estimated that almost 40% of restaurants have shut since March 2020. Further, the threat of a possible third wave of the pandemic is looming large. However, there is a clear rebound in the travel industry, almost entirely led by domestic tourism. The Centre and State governments must seize the opportunity and tap the full potential of domestic tourism to boost overall economic recovery. In fact, both the developed and developing countries are focusing on growing domestic travel to recover from the impact of the pandemic.
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