Domestic tourism in India has risen sharply over the past few months as the South Asian country with over 1.3 billion population eased travel restrictions after having struggled with the COVID-19 pandemic for over 1.5 years.
People who stayed indoors under the strict lockdown imposed from March 25 last year have begun to venture out into the hills and greens for fresh air.
The increase in daily domestic flights to popular tourist destinations, train ticket sales, hotel-bookings, pilgrimage tourism over the past several weeks are the leading indicators of increased tourism, local media said.
Compared to the second COVID-19 wave that hit the country during April-May this year, the pandemic has eased to some extent. Compared to over 400,000 cases/day and 4,000 deaths/day for several consecutive days five months ago, India on Tuesday reported 10,423 new cases and 443 deaths in the last 24 hours.
Over the past few months huge crowds have been witnessed in popular tourist destinations, after the federal and state governments lifted travel restrictions and opened up hotels and resorts.
The sharp rise in tourists flow within India is seen as revenge tourism.
“It’s revenge tourism in the sense that the people who felt suffocated due to repeated lockdowns and shutting down of the economy are not aggressively venturing out in a bid to chill out after spending nearly 19 months in-house,” said a top-ranking official of the federal tourism ministry.
The tourism ministry is promoting major tourist destinations by making special promotional videos of old heritage monuments.
President of the India Association of Tour Operators Rajiv Mehra said Indians could not do outbound tourism as there are no international flights at present.
“In a bid to attract tourists, big hotels at popular destinations are offering huge discounts. This is giving further encouragement to people who were so far disappointed due to staying indoors all these months,” Mehra added.
“Presently Indians are having a festive season,” Mehra added. “It was expected that people are going to move out in large numbers as the pre-bookings of the hotels saw a massive jump.”
He suggested that instead of offering loans to the hoteliers, the federal and state governments should extend grants and aid.
According to him, chief minister of the north-eastern state of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, gave tour operators a financial grant of 200,000 Indian Rupees (around 2,674 U.S. dollars) to small hoteliers and 25,000 Indian Rupees (around 334 dollars) for the tourists guides.
“We expect something similar from the Central government and other state governments,” he added.
English daily The Economic Times reported that as the country’s COVID-19 vaccination program is calming the fears of both domestic and foreign tourists, “domestic travel has been resuming in the country and the tourist destinations are receiving a large number of visitors.”
In order to attract foreign tourists, the federal tourism ministry has announced that the first 50,000 visas issued until March 2022 will be free and the e-visa facility will be extended to 169 countries.
It further said that international charter flights have already been approved on Oct. 15 and foreign visitors with tourist visas will be allowed from Nov. 15.