First 5 Lakh Tourist Visas To Be Free: Centre’s Boost For Covid-Hit Tourism Sector

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Five lakh tourist visas will be issued free of charge – once the government resumes issuance – Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Monday evening, as the government unveiled a list of eight relief measures for some of the sectors worst affected by the Covid pandemic and lockdown. This scheme will run till March 31, 2022, or till the first five lakh tourist visas are issued, whichever is earlier, Ms Sitharaman said, adding that each tourist could only avail of this scheme once The Finance Minister said the total financial implication of the scheme wil be ₹ 100 crore.

Travel and tourism sector is among the sectors most badly hit by the pandemic. States for whom tourism is a big earner – like Goa and Kerala – have reported thousands of crores in losses.

To illustrate the impact Covid has had on this sector, Nirmala Sitharaman said 10.93 million tourists visited India in 2019 and spent nearly US$ 31 billion on leisure and business. On average, an individual tourist stayed for about 21 days and spent $34, or ₹ 2,400, daily.

To help the country’s tourism sector recover, Ms Sitharaman also announced other measures, including a new loan guarantee scheme for 994 travel and tourism stakeholders (TTS, as recognised by the Tourism Ministry) and 10,700 regional- or state-level licensed tourist guides. Loans will be provided with 100 per cent guarantee up to certain limits, she said. For TTS the limit will be ₹ 10 lakh (per agency) and for guides it will be ₹ 1 lakh.

There will be no processing charges and waiver/foreclosure payment charges, and no additional collateral is needed, she said  Worldwide, the Covid crisis cost the global tourism sector $1.3 trillion in lost revenue in 2020, the United Nations said in January, calling it “the worst year in tourism history”. International tourist arrivals fell by one billion, or 74 per cent, in 2020 with Asia – the first region to feel the impact of Covid-19 – seeing the steepest decline, the UN said.