A spectacular view of the Taj Mahal, which has been at the center of a political row. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The Taj Mahal has been enjoying a rare respite after thousands of Indian and foreign tourists canceled plans to visit. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Indian government has decided to lift restrictions for international travelers and to restart granting tourist visas. Nearly one-and-a-half years ago, India suspended tourist visas in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The move is expected to help tourism and the civil aviation sectors that have been one of the worst-hit during Covid-19 lockdowns.

The federal government has now announced it will start issuing visas from October 15. However, for a month, tourists will be allowed entry into India only on chartered flights. Those wanting to visit India on scheduled commercial flights would have to wait until November 15.

The government said the decision was taken after consultations with stakeholders like the health ministry, external affairs ministry, civil aviation ministry, tourism ministry and state governments.

India suspended granting all visas to foreigners in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic last year. However, with the plateauing of coronavirus cases, the government had allowed foreigners to apply for all visas, other than tourist ones, for entry and stay in India.

The government has instructed state governments, tour operators and other stakeholders to strictly follow the Covid protocols laid down by the federal health ministry. It also urged people not to let their guards down during the festive season.

Tour operators welcomed the decision, and they also want the government to allow scheduled commercial international flights. They were suspended in March last year, along with domestic flights. Though domestic flights were allowed in May last year, with strict safety protocols in place, the government has extended the ban on overseas flights many times.

The country’s travel and tourism sector, which accounts for 2.5% of gross domestic product, was badly hit with hotel rooms remaining empty and flights suspended during the lockdowns and travel restrictions to fight the spread of Covid-19.

According to the National Council for Applied Economic Research, in the fiscal year 2020-21, the sector lost 14.5 million jobs in the first quarter followed by 5.2 million in the second and 1.8 million in the third quarter.

The resumption of domestic flights and a fall in daily new Covid cases have helped increase hotel occupancy, but market watchers say the premium segment will see a recovery only after international flights are restored and foreign tourists start arriving.