To boost tourism, govt announces 5L free visas

The first 5 lakh tourist visas issued once international travel restarts will be issued free of charge and government-recognised travel agents and tour guides can avail loans without processing fee or additional collateral, the government announced on Monday as part of measures to resuscitate the pandemic-hit travel and tourism sector in India.

Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government will extend federal guarantees on bank loans to help revive the tourism sector and the loan guarantee scheme stands to benefit 10,700 Regional Level Tourist Guides recognised by the tourism ministry and state governments.

While nearly 1,000 Travel and Tourism Stakeholders recognised by the ministry will be eligible for loans up to Rs 10 lakh each, tourist guides can avail loans up to Rs 1 lakh each, she said.

Tourism secretary Arvind Singh also confirmed that the finance ministry has approved the travel industry’s long-standing demand for credit of Service Export Incentive Scheme dues for 2019-20 to meet their liquidity requirements. “The finance ministry has lifted the hold on credit of dues under SEIS for 2019-20. Accordingly, the money will be released to beneficiaries soon,” Singh said.

Referring to the waiver of fee on five lakh tourist visas, sector head of ICRA Limited’s Corporate Sector Ratings, Vinutaa S, said, “While it would incentivise Foreign Tourist Arrivals to an extent, the recovery in foreign tourists coming into India would primarily depend on the Covid-19 containment and the pace of vaccine rollout.”

Industry bodies pushing for relief on statutory obligations of the travel industry stakeholders said Monday’s announcements will have limited impact. ASSOCHAM reiterated its demand that people employed in travel sector, including part-time workers, cab drivers, tourist guides, hotel staff and third-party service providers should be vaccinated on priority and that India should resume scheduled international flights with countries with which it has ‘air bubble’ agreements.

Hotel Association of India secretary-general M P Bezbaruah said the free tourist visa announcement has a “strong message that we have the confidence to welcome visitors and that tourism is a strong pillar of post-Covid economic recovery strategy”. He added that HAI hopes this will be followed by measures “like liquidity support and exemption from statutory taxes”.

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