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Data: Foreign Tourist Arrivals in 2021 reach the lowest in decades while NRI arrivals improve


As per the recently released India Tourism Statistics 2022, the Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA) in 2021 were the lowest in decades while the NRI arrivals improved on account of resumption of regular flight traffic. The number of FTA in 2021 was 15.2 lakhs, less than one-seventh of the same in 2019.

The Tourism sector accounted for 10% of the global GDP and provided employment to over 320 million people prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic severely affected the tourism sector worldwide, as countries resorted to unprecedented lockdowns & movement restrictions. All activities related to tourism such as eateries, aviation, hospitality, were drastically hit by the pandemic making 2020 and 2021 the most challenging years for the sector. The livelihoods and employment of millions across the globe were significantly affected. The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimated a loss of USD 4 trillion to global GDP in 2020 and 2021 due to the losses incurred in the sector. 

The situation in India is no different. The tourism sector is estimated to have directly contributed 2.7% to the GDP and 6.7% to the employment of the country in 2019-20. Including indirect contribution, the sector contributed to 5.2% of GDP and 15.3% of employment. According to the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER)’s study published in September 2021, the tourism economy or  Tourism Direct GVA (TDGVA) fell by 42.8% in Q1 of 2020-21, 15.5% in Q2, and 1.1% in Q3. On the other hand, the overall economy fell by 20.1% in Q1, 5.1% in Q2, and grew at a positive rate of 4.3% in Q3. The study also estimated that as many as 14.5 million jobs were lost during Q1 of 2020-21 out of an estimated 34.8 million active jobs during the pre-pandemic period of 2019. Further, it also observed that the wage income fell by 41.6% in Q1 while non-wage income, that is, the income of the self-employed or business owners nosedived by 124.4%. 

India Tourism Statistics 2022 was released recently

On World Tourism Day, 2022, Vice President of India Jagdeep Dhankhar released the ‘India Tourism Statistics 2022’ which provides data on key indicators related to the tourism sector for the calendar year 2021. Before looking at the statistics to understand the impact of the pandemic on the sector, some of the key terms used in this report & their definition are given below. 

Foreign Tourists Arrivals (FTA): This refers to the number of arrivals of foreign tourists/visitors to India, and not the number of persons. For instance, if a person visits India more than once, each arrival is counted as a new arrival. 

Foreign Tourist Visits (FTV): This is the number of foreign tourists who visit a State/UT

Domestic Tourist Visits (DTV): This refers to the number of domestic tourists visiting a particular State/UT.

The data on Foreign and Domestic Tourist Visits is collated at the state level. It is seen that FTV is always greater than FTA as a foreign tourist might visit multiple states/UTs. 

FTA in 2021 was the lowest in the last 3 decades

The FTA increased from 63.1 lakhs in 2011 to 109.3 lakhs or 1.09 crores in 2019, registering an increase of 89% in nine years. The FTA crossed 1 crore in 2017 and continued to increase until 2019. Despite touching an all-time high in 2019, the travel restrictions due to the pandemic resulted in the lowest FTA in India in 2021 since 1991. In 2020, the FTA dropped to 27.4 lakhs, a decrease of almost 75% as compared to 2019, and it dropped even further by 44.5% in 2021 to 15.2 lakhs despite relaxation in travel regulations and vaccination. In short, FTA in 2021 was roughly only one-seventh of what it was in 2019. To get a clearer picture, FTA recorded in India in the whole of 2021 was 15.2 lakhs whereas, in the month of December 2019 alone, the FTA recorded was nearly 12.3 lakhs. 

US, UK, and Bangladesh were the source of 55% of the FTAs in 2021

The top 15 countries together contributed to 81% of the total FTA in India in 2021. More than 28% of the FTAs in 2021 were from the US, followed by 15.8% from Bangladesh, and 10.7% from the United Kingdom. In 1981, the three countries together were the source of 30.5% of the FTA which has continuously increased over the decades. In 2015, the 3 countries accounted for 40% of the FTA which has almost touched 55% in 2021. Until 2013, UK and US had more FTA than Bangladesh. However, in 2014, Bangladesh overtook the UK, and in 2016, it overtook the US. In 2021, FTA from the US was more than from Bangladesh. The FTA of the US in 2021 had dropped to 2003 levels, while that of Bangladesh and the UK had dropped to below 1991 levels.

In 2021, the fourth highest share of FTA was that of Canada with 5.3% followed by Nepal with 3.4%. Afghanistan, Australia, and the European countries of Germany, Portugal, and France had a share of around 2% each. Maldives, Sri Lanka, Russia, Iraq, and the Netherlands contributed below 2% each in 2021. The share of FTA from these 15 countries was 49.6% in 1981 which increased to 75.1% in 2019 and 81% in 2021. 

Arrivals of NRIs increased by 52.6% in 2021 compared to 2020

The number of arrivals of Non- Resident Indians (NRIs) was around 54.3 lakhs in 2014 which had increased to 69.8 lakhs in 2019. In 2020, the number dropped to 35.9 lakhs, nearly half of that in 2019. Unlike in the case of FTAs, the NRI arrivals had increased by 52.6% to 54.8 lakhs in 2021, higher than that recorded in 2014. This could be because of the relaxation of travel rules and the opening of international borders to regular flights in 2021 which enabled NRIs visit their hometown after more than a year. 

FTV dropped to 10.5 lakhs in 2021, lowest in decades

The Foreign Tourist Visits (FTV) increased from 182.6 lakhs in 2012 to 314.1 lakhs or 3.14 crores in 2019, an increase of 72% in the eight-year period. However, this number dropped by 77.2% in 2020 to reach 71.7 lakh because of the pandemic. In 2021, it dropped even further by 85.29% to 10.5 lakhs. This is the lowest in more than three decades. In 1991, the FTV was 31.46 lakhs.  

On the other hand, Domestic Tourist Visits (DTV) witnessed an increase from 8,645 lakhs in 2011 to 23,219 lakhs in 2019, an increase of 2.7 times in 9 years. This growth was reversed by the pandemic when the DTV dropped by 73.7% in 2020. The DTV was 6,102 lakhs in 2020, the lowest since 2009. However, in contrast to the trend witnessed in the case of FTV, DTV climbed by 11% in 2021 to 6,776.3 lakhs. 

UNWTO noted that domestic tourism has been growing since the pandemic 

This trend in FTV and DTV is in line with global trends. According to the UN World Tourism Organization’s impact assessment of the pandemic on international tourism, domestic tourism has shown positive signs in many markets as people are exhibiting the tendency to travel closer by opting for ‘staycations’ or vacations close to home. Domestic tourism and travel close to home, as well as open-air activities, nature-based products and rural tourism are among the major travel trends that will continue shaping tourism in 2022, states the report. 

The report also noted that international travel dropped by 72% in 2020 calling 2020 the worst year on record for tourism. The year witnessed 1.1 billion fewer international tourists worldwide putting the number of travellers back to levels of 30 years ago. Though there was a 5% increase in 2021, international arrivals were still 71% below the pre-pandemic year of 2019. It also added that the economic contribution of tourism in 2021 was estimated at USD 1.9 trillion up from USD 1.6 trillion in 2020, but still well below the pre-pandemic value of USD 3.5 trillion. 

India’s foreign exchange earnings (FEE) from tourism between 2011 and 2019 saw a steady increase, crossing Rs. 2 lakh crores for the first time in 2019. In 2020, there was a significant drop to Rs. 50,136 crores. In 2021, the FEE registered a growth of 29.8% to reach Rs. 65,070 crores. 

Inbound tourism will catch up to pre-pandemic levels only by 2026-27 or even later

According to the NCAER study cited earlier, it is expected that the tourism economy, in terms of tourism expenditure, will get back to the pre-pandemic level by 2024-25 and domestic tourism will help achieve this. With respect to inbound tourism, the pre-pandemic level will be reached only by 2026-27 in the assumed optimistic scenario (when more people are likely to travel, and conditions are favourable for inbound tourism). This can take even longer if things don’t go as assumed. 

Meanwhile, the central government’s recent decision to discontinue the e-Tourist Visa facility for the UK and Canadian nationals (which are among the top source countries for tourists in India) has raised concerns that the travel and tourism industry in India will be further affected.

Featured Image: Foreign Tourist Arrivals in India


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A bachelor’s degree in mathematics and master’s in social science, she is driven by ardent desire to work with this unique combination to create her own path instead of following the herd. Having served a stint as the college union chairperson, she is a strategist who is also passionate about nature conservation, art and loves solving Sudoku.

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