Tour operators feel the pinch as many countries close their borders

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NEW DELHI : India’s struggling outbound tourism sector is set to see further travel cancellations as more foreign governments scramble to keep the Omicron variant of the coronavirus at bay. Thailand has temporarily suspended the Thailand Pass, while Singapore will freeze all new air ticket sales under its quarantine-free travel program from December 23 to January 20.

The Thailand Pass is a system to make the documentation process for incoming travelers more efficient and has also been used to monitor tourists.

The developments are expected to impact the international outbound travel season, with many businesses reporting cancellations.

Travelers to Thailand must take an RT-PCR test every other day. Thailand does not allow people to enter the country except for those traveling to Phuket, said Cholada Siddhivarn, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Mumbai office. “This milestone comes following an increase in cases of the novel coronavirus variant. People wishing to travel to Phuket can register for the Thailand Pass under the Phuket Sandbox program and Happy Quarantine,” Siddhivarn said.

However, this is not enough, say local tour operators. Delhi-based Welgrow Travel, which mainly focuses on designing itineraries for wealthy travelers, has seen many cancellations. All holiday traffic from Welgrow to Europe for the winter has been canceled due to the spread of the Omicron variant, chief executive Radhika Khanijo said.

“Had Singapore and Thailand fully opened up, it would have been a blessing for us at this time when we have to cancel so many trips to Europe. However, now all our travel traffic is being diverted to the Maldives and Dubai as it is. “had been during the first wave of covid. While these two countries remain strong, I don’t know how long travel companies can support themselves with so little business,” she said.

Singaporeans and permanent residents holding tickets will not be affected by this, but international travel will be hampered. Thailand and Singapore have been very strict about their RT-PCR testing, she said. “We recently sent a family to Singapore, but they had to get tested every morning. It is not possible to send tourists to such places where they have to worry about testing every 24 hours,” Khanijo said.

Thomas Cook (India) has received updates on the temporary measures taken as a precautionary measure by a few international authorities and will continue to monitor the situation closely, said Rajeev Kale, company president and national head, holidays, MICE, Visa. The bulk of Thomas Cook’s international travel demand is for the Maldives, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Turkey. Luxury travelers have also shown interest in France and Switzerland.

N Chirag Travels has received requests for cancellations of outbound trips over the past week, said Riaz Munshi, the company’s managing director and chairman of the Outbound Tour Operators Association of India.

As most of them were charters and bubble flights, it could be a knee-jerk reaction where countries want fewer travelers during the holiday season and then choose to open their borders later, he said. declared. “If cases are not increasing or not as severe, most countries will open their borders after the second week of January. Protocols change daily and people are afraid of being quarantined in a foreign country due to changing rules in different countries; Indians are more inclined to travel within the country or to Dubai and the Maldives for the festive season,” he said.

Khanijo said she does not expect a drop in cases at this time due to Omicron. “Travel is the first to be hit and the last to recover,” she said.

If covid doesn’t hurt more, India’s outbound tourism market is on track to exceed $40 billion by 2026 with a double-digit growth rate between 2021 and 2026, according to ResearchandMarkets.com.

“While the momentum for travel to Singapore was not yet accelerating, we were noticing a steady increase in searches for leisure travel bookings in Thailand. In fact, our recently launched air charter vacation service with Go First to Phuket received an excellent response.As part of our existing partnership with the Tourism Authority of Thailand, we will continue to fly tourists under the Sandbox program to Phuket for Christmas and New Year. As the situation evolves, we expect travelers to postpone their international travel plans,” a MakeMyTrip spokesperson said.

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