Amid a decline in Covid cases in the country, India may soon reopen its doors for foreign tourists for the first time in one-and-a-half years, officials said.
First five lakh foreign tourists will be issued visas free of cost, in an attempt to revive the tourism, hospitality and aviation sectors, badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020 when a nationwide lockdown was announced.
Top Union home ministry officials are deliberating with all stakeholders on the expected date and modalities for opening up of the country for foreign tourists.
A formal announcement allowing foreign tourists to visit India may come within the next 10 days, an official from the Home Ministry said.
The decision is being taken in view of the declining number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
On Sunday, 30,773 new cases were reported while active cases had come down to 3.32 lakh.
India's COVID-19 vaccination coverage has also crossed 80 crore as on Saturday.
The free visa to the tourists will be issued till March 31, 2022 or the issuance of five lakh visa, whichever is earlier. The total financial implication for this would be Rs 100 crore.
The free visa move is expected to incentivise short-term tourists visiting India, the official said.
The cost for a month-long e-tourist visa is country specific but is around USD 25. A year-long multiple entry e-tourists visa charge is around USD 40.
The e-tourist visa has been suspended since March 2020.
The home ministry officials said they are still deliberating whether the entry of foreign tourists will be allowed with certain conditions like limiting it to only vaccinated travellers for now and having a negative list of countries where COVID-19 cases remain a concern.
The opening up is also expected to be phase-wise to see the response and implications, another official said.
Many countries, including some of those in Europe, have already opened up for tourism.
Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhury/Reuters