New Delhi: The Central government on Monday announced that India will now offer tourist visas free of any charge until March 31, 2022. The scheme was announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman as part of a Rs 6.3 lakh crore financial relief package for the Covid-19 crippled economy.

In order to combat the devastating impacts of Covid-19 on the tourism sector, Sitharaman announced financial support for over 11,000 registered tourists, guides, travel, and tourism stakeholders. Additionally, once the visa issuance process for international travel is resumed, 5 lakh one-month tourist visas will be given free of cost until either 31 March 2022, or until 5 lakh visas are issued. She claimed that this would incentivize short-term tourists visiting India. The government will also provide working capital or personal loans to people in the tourism sector to revitalize their businesses. Loans will be provided up to a limit of Rs 10 lakh for travel and tourism stakeholders and Rs 1 lakh for registered tourist guides.She said that the government decided to take these steps based on the demands of the tourism industry. The financial implications of this are expected to be around Rs 100 crore.

The tourism and hospitality industries are two of the sectors worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. An estimated Rs 15 lakh crore has been lost in 2020 by these industries as a result of the economic impact of Covid-19, and these sectors desperately need government support to stay afloat in 2021. The government has previously tried to jump start the dwindling domestic tourism by starting programs such as Dekho Apna Desh and developing infrastructure through the Swadesh Darshan and PRASHAD schemes.

Global tourism dropped by a staggering 73% in 2020, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). That number fell to 83% by June 2021. Total income lost in the travel, tourism and related sectors in 2020 due to Covid-19 is estimated to be US$3.96 trillion, with over a 100 million people losing employment in the travel and tourism industry. This year, Japan alone may lose approximately US$1.39 billion from tourist revenues, due to a ban on international spectators from attending The Olympics, one of the most popular and anticipated events in the world, amidst Covid-19 concerns.

A UNWTO statement on the expected recovery of the travel and tourism industry reads “Most experts do not to see a return to pre-pandemic levels happening before 2023. In fact, 43% of respondents point to 2023, while 41%  expect a return to 2019 levels will only happen in 2024 or later. UNWTO’s extended scenarios for 2021-2024 indicate that it could take two-and-a-half to four years for international tourism to return to 2019 levels,”

A large number of countries have imposed travelling restrictions on people travelling to and from India. The United Arab Emirates, as of Thursday, is the most recent addition to a growing list containing the likes of France, Hong Kong, Israel, and the United States. A large number of countries also refuse to consider indigenous vaccines like Covishield and Covaxin as sufficient to allow travel. In the European Union, only nine countries have accepted Indian vaccines.