Dubai: India is having a “day to day” assumption on when to allow resumption of normal international flights, according to a top bureaucrat.
“One has to balance the concerns of public safety and travel,” said Rakesh Kumar Verma, Additional Secretary, Tourism, Government of India. “We will take very expeditious action as and when things improve and the assessment is carried out. I'm hopeful that [full] international travel will resume soon.”
With Omicron cases surging, it looks like the resumption of a full roster of scheduled flights may take longer. India is targeting January 31 to end its ‘air bubble’ agreement policy, but aviation experts say that the government will most likely postpone the date again. Analysts also say that fares on the India-UAE route could fall by 20-30 per cent if the current limitations on flight capacity were to be removed.
Taking it slow
After a near two-year ban, India resumed issuing tourist visas in November last and the decision was met with an initial surge in demand. Last year, the government announced that 500,000 free visas would be issued for international travellers before March 2022.
“We received a large number of applications and because of this Omicron, the government is assessing options and calibrating the strategy on how to really open up international travel,” said Verma. “It will probably take some more time to understand how international travel to India is shaping up.”
India’s domestic tourism sector took off last year after COVID-19 led to international flight suspensions and brought down air connectivity. “Our domestic tourism was very successful and some of our destinations were receiving footfalls, which was kind of record-breaking for the segment,” said Verma. “Hopefully, in 2022, we will get over the coronavirus and international travel to India will rejuvenate.”
In 2020, around 6.33 million international tourists and non-resident Indians arrived in India, down from about 18 million in 2019, as per some industry estimates.
Rising cases in India have led to the re-introduction of restrictions at the state level and that has already begun impacting passenger confidence. “The focus of the government and the Ministry of Tourism is to cause least disruption to travel, and while most of the states do try balancing public health and safety, it does impact domestic travel,” said Verma.
“Hopefully, we'll be back to a normal travel pattern at least domestically.”