Tourism numbers reached record lows in 2020 both around the world and in India. As the sector seems to be slowly recovering in the last few months with the foreign tourist arrivals reporting an uptick, the news of a new variant has emerged. While the 2021 numbers for domestic tourists are still not available, the sector’s recovery is severely affected by the new variants.
Before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism was one of the most important sectors in the world economy contributing to nearly 10% of global GDP and providing employment to over 320 million people worldwide. However, the pandemic resulted in the closure of international boundaries, imposition of severe travel restrictions and quarantines, which devastated the tourism sector. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, international tourist arrivals reduced by 74% in 2020 reaching the lowest levels in more than three decades. Further, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimated a loss of USD 4 trillion to global GDP because of the losses incurred in the tourism sector.
In India, 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, a significant number of jobs were lost in the tourism sector since the lockdown measures in early 2020. The study estimated that 14.5 million jobs during Q1 of 2020-21, 5.2 million jobs during Q2, and 1.8 million jobs during Q3 were lost as compared to an estimated 34.8 million (direct) jobs in 2019-20. This is attributed to the plummeting number of tourists, both domestic & foreign.
Ministry of Tourism provides comprehensive data on domestic and foreign tourists in India
To understand this devastating impact on the Tourism sector in India, we look at the trends of domestic and foreign tourists in India before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. For this, we used the data from the Ministry of Tourism’s website. The numbers are released annually under the following heads-
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. This data is made available on a monthly basis.
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. The data for FTV and DTV is available only on an annual basis (up to 2020).
FTA in 2020 the lowest since 2003
Until 2019, there was a gradual increase in FTA in India over the years. The FTA had increased from 57.8 lakhs in 2011 to 109.3 lakhs in 2019, registering an increase of 89% in nine years. While the FTA in 2019 was the highest in the last three decades, FTA in 2020 was the lowest since 2003, the year the pandemic struck. In 2020, the FTA dropped to 27.4 lakhs, a decrease of almost 75% as compared to 2019. In 2021, the FTA is at 11.08 lakhs according to the provisional data for 11 months up to November 2021. The FTA in December 2021 must be more than 16.36 lakhs for the total FTA in 2021 to be more than the 2020 numbers, which is most unlikely as the new Omicron variant is spreading fast across the world. Moreover, travel restrictions are being imposed yet again in wake of the new variant. It also looks near impossible since the highest number of FTA in the month of December prior to the pandemic was 12.26 lakhs.
Total FTA in India in 2021 is less than the FTA in January 2020 alone
The FTA from January to November in 2017 was 88.68 lakhs which gradually increased to 97.04 lakhs in 2019 during the same period. In 2020, the FTA for the first 11 months was 26.54 lakhs, of which 21.38 lakh arrivals (80.6%) were in January and February. Since March 2020, when the viral infection was declared a global pandemic, the FTA has dropped considerably. FTA for the first 11 months of 2021 is only 11.08 lakhs, which is lower than the number of FTA in the month of January 2020 alone when it was 11.09 lakhs.
Between 2017 & 2019, the month-wise FTA was on the rise for almost all the months (except March & May 2019). But, since March 2020 the trend in month-wise FTA has witnessed a sharp drop as expected. In March 2020, the FTA dropped to one-third, from 9.78 lakhs in 2019 to 3.28 lakhs in 2020. At the same time, in the months of April, May, and June when the average FTA in each month was over 7 lakhs in 2019, there were less than 5000 FTA in April and May 2020, and less than 10,000 FTA in June. This was when the nationwide lockdown was at its peak and severe travel restrictions were imposed.
Since April 2020, the FTA in a month crossed one lakh for the first time in March 2021 after almost a year. However, the second wave of the pandemic resulted in a drop in FTA between April and June 2021. Since then, the FTA has been increasing and crossed 2.5 lakhs in November 2021. The government has eased the international travel restrictions since October 2021 which may have resulted in this increase. From 15 October 2021, the Home Ministry began granting fresh Tourist Visas to foreigners coming to India through chartered flights. Since 15 November 2021, the grant of visas was extended to those entering India through other flights as well. But the new Omicron variant might undo the gradual increase in FTA witnessed during September & November 2021.
Usually, the months from January to March, and October to December are when FTA is at its peak. Between 2017 and 2019, this period accounted for nearly 60% of the FTAs in each of the years. In these six months of 2017, a total of 58.14 lakhs FTA was recorded, which increased by almost 11% to 64.44 lakhs in 2019. However, in 2020, this number dropped to 26.69 lakhs, less than half the number during the same six months in 2019. Excluding December, the year 2021 has recorded only 7.4 lakh FTA in the peak season.
FTV and DTV dropped by 77% and 74% respectively in 2020
The Foreign Tourist Visits (FTV) increased by 72% in the eight-year period, from 182.6 lakhs in 2012 to 314.1 lakhs in 2019. Struck by the pandemic, this number dropped by 77.2% in 2020 to end at 71.7 lakh. The FTV in 2020 is the lowest since 2004.
Similarly, Domestic Tourist Visits (DTV) went up from 8,645 lakhs in 2011 to 23,219 lakhs in 2019, an increase of 2.7 times in 9 years. However, in 2020, this dropped by 73.7% as compared to 2019. The DTV was 6,102 lakhs in 2020, the lowest since 2009.
India’s FEE from tourism in 2020 dropped to late 2000s levels
The direct impact of the huge drop in FTA is also visible from India’s Foreign Exchange Earnings (FEE) from Tourism. FEE from tourism in India in 2020 was Rs. 50,136 crores, lower than the FEE in 2008. The FEE in 2020 was less than 1/4th of the same in 2019.
Between 2011 and 2019, there was a steady increase in FEE, and it crossed Rs. 2 lakh crores for the first time in 2019.
Years of progress reversed by the pandemic
It is evident from the data that the pandemic has been a major setback for the tourism industry worldwide and in India. Years of progress & investment in the sector seem to have been undone in these two years. It is for certain that it will take at least another two to three years for the sector to recover, provided there are no more restrictions by countries around the world.
The Indian Government has told parliament that it has initiated measures such as Dekho Apna Desh, Ek Bharat Shrestha Bharat, Bharat Parv and Paryatan Parv, and others to boost domestic tourism. Following the pandemic, the government announced Financial Support for Travel and Tourism Stakeholders (TTS) and Registered Tourist Guides under which over 11,000 registered tourist guides and other travel and tourism stakeholders will receive financial support in the form of loans from various nationalized and private banks. The government also announced free visas to the first 5 lakh tourists.
Tourism is a major sector which employs many women and young people, especially in developing countries. In a June 2021 report, the UNCTAD recommended formulation of policies considering the following dimensions:
- Confidence of travelers should be restored, and vaccination plays a significant role to ensure this.
- Socio-economic impact on the livelihoods of those involved in the sector must be mitigated.
- Long-term implications of the pandemic need to be considered.
Featured Image: COVID-19 impact on India’s Tourism sector