Fancy skydiving from a helicopter on the Gold Coast? Or care to view installations at the Museum of Underwater Art opened during the pandemic at the Great Barrier Reef? Better still, are you keen on rooting for Team India later on at the ICC T20 Cricket World Cup?
You may have plenty of company if Covid-19 cases continue on their downward trajectory. Several countries have eased restrictions for Indian travellers, sensing pent-up demand and a substantial decline in coronavirus cases.
The Australian High Commission on Friday said Indian visitor visa lodgement is back at 2019 levels. The country has reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers – first allowing students, parents and migrants, and now all visitors – from February 21.
“Australia is open for business and tourists. So come on Down (Under),” said Chris Waters, minister counsellor for Southeast Asia, department of home affairs at the Australian High Commission, in his pitch.
“We are seeing a large number of Indian students coming to Australia,” he said. “Some returning to study and others for the very first time.”
Travel and Tourism Boost
“We hope now that the borders have reopened, we will see India go further and further up the rankings,” said Waters of the Australian High Commission. “The ICC T20 Cricket World Cup is coming back to Australia at the end of this year. We expect a lot of Indians to come and watch.”
Though India is yet to resume scheduled commercial international flight operations, eased restrictions for Indian travellers have brought hope of a better summer for travel companies and tour operators.
Pranav Sinha, head of South Asia at visa processing firm VFS Global, feels the travel outlook remains volatile due to geopolitical risks and potential new Covid-19 variants. But, he said, relaxation of travel curbs, along with demand in India — a key source market for international travel — signals an uptick in volumes this summer.
“The UK, several Schengen area members, Thailand and Japan have eased restrictions over the past few weeks,” he said. “Hence, we are hopeful of an increase in overseas travel this year, particularly from India.”
According to updates from VFS Global as on March 2, France, Italy, the UK, Ireland, Lebanon, Morocco, Norway, Austria, Belgium, Thailand, Turkey, the UAE (Dubai Visa Processing Centre) and South Africa are open for applications under all visa categories.
Neliswa Nkani, hub head for India, Middle East and South East Asia at South African Tourism, said the country’s trade partners say the intent to visit, as well as conversions, are steadily rising.
“We are processing tourist visas on priority to support travel,” she said. “We are also conscious of the need for value-driven itineraries and are undertaking bullish measures to ensure every rupee spent ensures maximum returns. By engaging with airlines on subsidised fares for the India market, we are looking to bring down the cost of travel remarkably.”
She expects these efforts to increase summer outbound traffic to South Africa and contribute to the recovery of tourism sectors in both countries. There are currently no restrictions in South Africa, besides basic post-pandemic protocols such as the wearing of masks and reasonable social distancing.
Indiver Rastogi, president and group head for global business travel at Thomas Cook (India) and SOTC, said there was a significant surge in demand with the easing of travel and health protocols, led by western Europe (Switzerland, France, Spain), triggering a fourfold growth in queries over last year.
“We expect a further boost with the latest positive announcement from France,” he said. “With the relaxation of RT-PCR rules, Dubai and Abu Dhabi are also seeing a 40-50% growth in interest, compared to the same period last year. Turkey and Egypt are up by 40% and the USA by 100% (for customers holding valid visas).”
“Short-haul destinations in particular are likely to see the maximum uplift, and we are already seeing a strong pipeline for Thailand, with queries up 2x week-on-week since the announcement,” Rastogi said. A spokesperson at MakeMyTrip said with more countries beginning to reopen their borders for Indian travellers after a gap of two years it is ‘safe’ to say that pent-up demand for international travel will predominantly drive bookings in the coming months. “Current data patterns on the platform indicate that 96% of the searches are for the coming summer holiday season , with Dubai, Thailand, Maldives, Sri Lanka, London, Paris and Amsterdam ranking high on the consideration list of international destinations,” the spokesperson added.
US Forward Bookings
The US is open to all fully vaccinated Indian travellers. Proof of vaccination status as well as a negative Covid-19 test need to be shown prior to boarding.
Given the high frequency of flights and “abundant” seat capacity between India and the US, the market is already seeing forward bookings from India, said Seema Kadam, regional director for India at the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.
Prior to pandemic disruptions, India represented one of the fastest-growing international markets for visitors to Los Angeles. In 2019, 135,000 Indians visited LA, injecting $301 million in visitor spending into the local economy.
“With our borders open, we hope to see an uptick in arrivals in 2022,” Kadam said. “There are more accommodation options than ever, with many new hotels opening their doors last year, including the iconic Fairmont Century Plaza as well as a crop of boutique properties in downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood.”