TOUR operators in Chennai, India, are flooded with calls after the announcement of the Central government giving free visas to foreign nationals travelling to India on tourist and visit visas.
While the tour and travel operators of the city were sceptical about the arrival of tourists in the country, the flood of calls they are receiving from France, Malaysia, Singapore, UK and the USA has surprised them.
M Murugesan, an operator with a leading travel agency at Royapetth in Chennai, said: “We were not very interested in the announcement as with the Covid-19 second wave still on, we were not expecting tourists to come to India but we were surprised when almost all travel and tour operators in the city were flooded with calls from people of Tamil origin and citizens of France, UK, USA, Malaysia and Singapore about coming to India.”
Tour operators said that most of the tourists were coming to the country on pilgrimage as some of them were not able to visit their favourite temples that were shut during the pandemic.
Tour operator Madhavan Raja Manickam said: “I got calls from UK and US for group travel and they wanted an all South India tour, several are foreigners but some are India-born foreign citizens. These calls have boosted my confidence, and the reduction in GST rates for foreign travellers would increase the number of tourists visiting the country.”
The tourist season starts in September and continues till February, increasing the business of tourist taxi operators, hotels, restaurants, motels, resorts, and also curio shops and other shops selling unique artefacts.
Tour operators said that there were several tourists from Malaysia and Singapore who had shown interest, most of them for pilgrimage tourism. A section of tourists from Malaysia also preferred medical tourism as Chennai is home to some noted multispecialty hospitals.
With back-to-back waves of the pandemic causing panic, the decision of the central government to grant 500 000 free visas would bring relief to the stressed tourism sector.
Kalayanaraman, a tourist taxi operator in Chennai, said: “We were in the doldrums for the past two years and I had almost made up my mind to quit this industry and work as a daily wager to support my family. However this announcement has boosted the industry and the travel agencies through which I get my work have all received several calls and most of them are serious about travelling to India and especially South India.”
The industry is hoping that the state government increases its vaccination drive and creates awareness among the general public about Covid-19 as foreign tourists will be much more careful while in India.
Any negative report from the first batches of the visitors could give a different picture of the country and could reduce the footfalls.