This year, September 27 was World Tourism Day. On this occasion António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, in his message said – “Tourism has suffered enormously during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 120 million jobs are at risk. The impacts could lead to the loss of between 1.5 and 2.8 per cent of the global GDP. This will particularly affect the most vulnerable countries, including Small Island Developing States, the Least Developed Countries and many African nations, where tourism can represent between 30 and 80 per cent of exports.”

The Secretary-General of the World Tourism Organization  Zurab Pololikashvili added – “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a standstill. Our sector is among the hardest hit with millions of jobs at risk.”

Tourism and Aviation industries complement each other. The two are tightly interlinked. In 2019, according to Statista, 4.54 billion passengers travelled by air. World Tourism Organisation recorded 1.5 billion tourist arrivals in the same year. Therefore, tourism alone accounts for thirty per cent (30%) of the total worldwide passenger traffic. If we see the distribution of tourists vis-à-vis the mode of transport they use, then about 870 million people travelled by air (58% of 1.5 Billion).

International Inbound Tourism (2018)
Source: World Tourism Organization ©Statista 2020

The Indian domestic tourism scenario is widely different from the global trends.

Foreign Tourist Arrivals in India

Though the year 2020 started well for the Indian Tourism Industry, the effect of the pandemic was felt from February onwards. On a year-on-year basis (June 2020), the first six months show a decline in foreign tourist traffic by -53.5%.

Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, Agra, India by Ibrahim Rifath on Unsplash

Foreign Tourist Arrivals in India

Though the year 2020 started well for the Indian Tourism Industry, the effect of the pandemic was felt from February onwards. On a year-on-year basis (June 2020), the first six months show a decline in foreign tourist traffic by -53.5%.

Foreign Tourist Arrivals in India (2018 to June 2020)
Source Ministry of Tourism, India

The growth rate last year of 3.5% goes with the global average growth rate. International tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) worldwide grew 4% in 2019 to reach 1.5 billion, based on data reported by destinations around the world. 2019 was another year of strong growth, although slower compared to the exceptional rates of 2017 (+6%) and 2018 (+6%).

India’s share in global tourism (mostly all use air travel) is a measly 1.3%. The World Tourism Organization was expecting a growth of 3%-4% in 2020 as well.   

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India’s Domestic Tourism

Number of domestic tourist visits in India from 2000 to 2018 (in millions)
Data Source: Indian Tourism Department

Domestic tourism has been growing at a steady pace post-2000. The CAGR for the past eighteen years is over twelve per cent (12.58%). In 2018, over 1.85 billion domestic tourist visits were made across India, an increase from the previous year.

Indian tourists mostly undertake journeys by train and road transportation.

Governments Not Doing Enough to Promote Return to Normalcy

Observing the way Governments are trying to regain normalcy, it doesn’t appear that they have any well thought out policy. The actions taken by them are more akin to a fire-fighting situation.

Passenger traffic is down more than 80% on a year-to-year basis. In August this year, IATA revised down its predictions for the recovery of global passenger traffic as the Covid-19 pandemic, continued to wreak havoc on air travel. The passenger traffic will not return to pre-COVID levels until at least 2024, a year later than it predicted a month ago.

Avoiding Quarantine on Arrival – IATA’s goal

It is evident that tourists cannot be quarantined. IATA has been urging governments to avoid quarantine for passengers arriving into the country. Quarantine is the main inhibiting factor for international travel. The Agency wants strict procedures to be implemented so that symptomatic passengers can be identified and restricted from boarding the flight. IATA also want the implementation of ICAO guidelines for mitigating risks in the case where an infected person does travel. Unless the Governments heed to IATA’s request, tourism is bound to remain suspended.

Flights Are Not A ‘Start-Stop’ Game

Ever since International flights started operating from the last week of May, many countries do not appear to have any clear policy. For returning back to normalcy The ‘start-stop’ directives to airlines in no way help the traveller and neither the services providers. On September 30, Lufthansa stopped its flights to India since there is a disagreement on the Bubble agreement with Germany. Both Hong Kong and Dubai governments suspended flights from India for one day since COVID infected passengers were detected. Emirates started its flights to India in May and then stopped flying in June.

This kind of uncertainty has to be curtailed. Governments have to look at bringing air travel and tourism back to normal.

COVID-19 can longer be an excuse to continue with the mess that has been created. Millions of jobs have been lost. It is high time the Governments walk the extra mile to help these people. Normalcy must return.

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Ajay Prakash, is an IT veteran of over 40 years. During his career he implement systems for satellite weather monitoring and data dissemination for air traffic control. He has a passion for travel & aviation. As he puts it– “Every destination has a journey”.

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