India will issue free tourist visa for 5 lakh tourists, the Centre said on Monday. The move is expected to boost in-bound international travel.
Addressing a press conference, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that for tourism, once the visa issuance for international travel is restarted, the first five lakh (500 thousand) tourists will be issued visas free of charge.
“The scheme would be applicable till March 31, 2022, or till 5 lakh visas are issued, whichever is earlier. This would incentivise short-term tourists visiting India,” she said.
The government will also provide working capital or personal loans to people in the tourism sector to discharge liabilities or restart businesses impacted due to COVID-19.
“The focus is on new lending, and not repayment of old loans,” Ms. Sitharaman also said, adding, “all borrowers (including defaulters up to 89 days) are eligible for the scheme.”
India Begins Lifting Restrictions
The announcement comes as comes as India’s states start lifting restrictions amid a decline in coronavirus infections after the country suffered the unprecedented COVID-19 surge.
Local restrictions imposed during the last months of April and May, have severely hit economic activities such as retail, transport and construction while putting millions out of work.
Offering her comments on the government’s latest announcement, Shivpriya Nanda, Partner, J Sagar Associates, leading law firm representing several players in hospitality, tourism and retail said, “There is always more that can be done for the tourism industry but this definitely will provide the much needed support to the tourist guides and travel agencies who have been amongst the worst sufferers.”
Ms. Nanda added that in the near term domestic tourism could become an important contributor to the economy and travel agents and tourist guides are its backbone. “They need to be helped back on their feet for the rehabilitation of this sector,” she said.
Assocham Seeks Relief Package
Meanwhile, industry lobby Assocham on Monday said that it has reached out to the government seeking an urgent relief package, comprising long-tenure debt restructuring and priority in vaccination for the staff engaged in hospitality industry.
In a presentation for the ministries of tourism, finance, external affairs, civil aviation and RBI, the Assocham National Council on Tourism and Hospitality has said that thousands of MSMEs have been displaced in the sector and their rehabilitation would require liberal and immediate help.
”Tourism, restaurant and hotel industry contributes to generating large scale employment and revenue generation for the government. The sector is also a lifeline of thousands of micro small and medium businesses,” said Assocham secretary general Deepak Sood. The sector, Sood added, would require immediate short-term packages comprising easy and quick credit lines for at least two years to help retain staff and pay them salaries.
The chamber has also asked the government to consider granting e-tourist visa for all those who are fully vaccinated and have negative RT-PCR tests.
Emphasizing the importance of vaccinating people employed in the sector, the industry body stated that part-time workers, cab drivers, tourist guides, hotel staff and third party/service providers should be vaccinated on a priority basis.
Besides, the scheduled international flights should start at least from the countries with which India has ‘air bubble’ agreements.
The chamber has also urged the finance ministry and GST Council to accept a long-pending demand from the hospitality sector for GST input credit so that the cascading impact in the value chain is neutralised. It also urged the Centre and the states to waive electricity, excise, and other statutory charges.
Release SEIS Scrips
Immediate release of Services Export Incentive Scheme (SEIS) Scrips for the tour operators and hoteliers is another demand put forward by Assocham. Currently, the SEIS scrips for 2019-20 are still pending and be cleared. At the same time, the rate for the SEIS scrips should be raised from 7% to 10%.