NEW DELHI: Indian hotels and travel operators said on Thursday their industry would be hurt by the government’s decision not to issue visas for visitors in order to combat the spread of coronavirus.
With just 73 confirmed cases of the virus and no deaths, India, a country of 1.3 billion people, has so far fared better than elsewhere in Asia, Europe and North America. But experts say India’s already overstretched medical system would struggle to deal with a major rise in serious cases.
New Delhi said on Wednesday it would cancel almost all visas until April 15, a move that could damage an industry that caters to about 10 million foreign tourists a year.
“Everything has been cancelled,” Rachna Singh, CEO of the Federation of Hospitality and Tourism of Rajasthan, a popular destination for visitors with its forts and palaces, saying many people who had booked to visit next month had abandoned plans.
She said four in 10 people relied in some way on tourism in Rajasthan, where some of the first cases of coronavirus in India were reported last month among a group of Italian visitors.
“All our members are suffering at the moment,” said Chetan Gupta, general secretary of the Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India, adding that the visa ban risked taking tourism and business activity to an “all time low”.
Sooraj Nair, director of the five-star Crown Plaza hotel in Kochi in Kerala famed for its spices, said occupancy at his hotel had dropped to 20%. Average hotel occupancy in India in 2019 was around two thirds.
Government and industry sources said on Thursday they expected economic growth to slide for at least two quarters. Share prices of Indian airlines tumbled on Thursday, as the visa ban prompted ticket discounting in an already depressed air travel market.
Other regional nations also took steps to combat the virus. The Maldives archipelago declared a public health emergency giving the government extra powers to ban public gatherings and Sri Lanka ordered schools closed for more than five weeks.
Brijesh Patel, chairman of the governing council of the Indian Premier League for domestic cricket, said a meeting would be held on Saturday to discuss “all possibilities” regarding the tournament that is due to start this month, including visas for overseas players and whether spectators could watch.
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