By: Narvijay Yadav
For the past few weeks, the tourism industry seemed to be back on track. After a long gap, tourists started to throng the hill stations like Shimla, Manali, Mussoorie and Srinagar among others. Hotel occupancy was up to 80% on the weekends. The news of finding a new variant of Covid in Africa has started worrying the hospitality business owners. Since the prosperity of the tourism industry is linked to the fortunes of many other businesses also, it is a matter of concern for both the private and government sectors. Exactly two weeks later, from December 15, international flights were going to get the green signal. On Friday, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had made an announcement to this effect. But, on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked officials to review the relaxation of travel restrictions. Definitely, this is the effect of news from Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has named the variant as Omicron. It is believed to be many times more dangerous than the Delta variant. Some people are also calling it Botswana, because it was first reported there. The UK, Singapore and now India also have started banning the flights coming from African nations. Foreign commercial flights have been closed for the last 21 months. Countries whose airlines were being recommended for relaxation included South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel, besides the UK and other European countries.
After the second wave of Covid vanished, foreign chartered flights were allowed to come to India from 15 October. After this, from November 15, tourist visas were started for other flights and from December 15, foreign flights were supposed to arrive. Many countries have banned flights coming from African countries like South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana etc. A New York Times report said the US government would stop travellers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi from Monday. Similarly, Canada, the UK and several EU countries have also imposed restrictions for travellers from South Africa and its neighbouring countries.
Some states and local authorities in India have started imposing travel restrictions for travellers coming from African countries. The Mayor of Mumbai has announced that all passengers arriving at Mumbai airport from South Africa will be compulsorily quarantined. On the other hand, the Gujarat government has made the RT-PCR test mandatory for passengers arriving from Europe, UK, Brazil, South Africa, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong at any airport in the state. It is natural for all this to have a direct impact on the tourism industry and hotel business. Whether it is a mid-range hotel or a five-star hotel, the business of all of them depends a lot on the arrival of foreign tourists. When people will not come, how will the hotel rooms be booked and how will the business come on the line. This is a big question that is worrying the hotel owners. (The author is a senior journalist and columnist & can be reached at [email protected])