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COVID-19: 4000 foreign tourists stuck in India following visa suspension

While different countries have been operating flights and charters to bring back their tourists, government officials are hoping the launch of the stranded in India website on Tuesday by the ministry of tourism will accelerate efforts to send them back home.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Apr 01, 2020, 08.51 PM IST
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StrandedinIndia.com received over 300 queries and messages for help from overseas tourists on day one.
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New Delhi: Twenty days after India enforced a blanket travel ban for overseas tourists and suspended all tourist visas amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, about 4000 foreign tourists are stuck in the country, government officials and travel industry sources familiar with the developments told ET.

While different countries have been operating flights and charters to bring back their tourists, government officials are hoping the launch of the stranded in India website on Tuesday by the ministry of tourism will accelerate efforts to send them back home.

StrandedinIndia.com received over 300 queries and messages for help from overseas tourists on day one.

“These queries have been rising. Our immediate concern is to make sure these tourists head back home safely. The website should help streamline efforts and play the crucial connecting role between ministry of external affairs (MEA) and state governments as MEA doesn't reach really out on the ground level and state governments were unable to connect with MEA to coordinate outgoing flights for foreign tourists,” a government official familiar with the matter said.

The official said regional tourism ministry offices in 20 locations in India are working together with state governments and MEA to address concerns of overseas tourists.

“If flights are coming in from certain countries, then, making sure that information reaches the tourists and ensuring the movement of that tourist from a particular state to the city from where the flights will take off. All that coordination is going on currently,” the official added.

On March 11, the government announced that all existing visas barring diplomatic, official, UN/international, employment and project visas were being suspended till April 15.

Areza N (name changed on request), hailing from one of the Central Asian republics, was on a month long India trip and travelling solo. She travelled to Jaipur, Dehradun, Mussoorie, Rishikesh and was finally spending a few days in Goa when the lockdown was announced. Since then, she has been stuck in a hotel.

“The hotel owners have been providing me basic food and taking care of basic needs. But they have advised me to lie low since my visa has expired. I was supposed to fly out on March 26 but all flights were discontinued. My country’s embassy has said they will sort the visa issue once the lockdown ends,” said Areza.

Tapas Banerjee, managing director
of Trinetra Tours said his British client Simon Currell is currently stuck in Khajuraho on his sixth India trip.

On March 23, Currell and his friend were not permitted to check out of the Lalit Hotel in Khajuraho.

"Their Covid 19 tests were done and these were negative . However, they were locked down in the hotel where they are the only occupants. Inspite of being in one particular room for three weeks they have no complaints. However, we do feel for them as they are true India addicts," said Banerjee.

Pronab Sarkar, president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), a body representing more than 1600 operators handling inbound tours, said most stranded overseas tourists are Europeans.

“We are also in touch with the ministry and asking our tour operators to send information,” Sarkar said.

A tourist going by the name of a HumbleEnglishman tweeted to the ministry following the website launch. “My visa stay limit is expiring. India is safer than Europe... Please allow foreigners to stay another three to six months,” he wrote.

Another user @GoaKev wrote: “The visa extension should be automatically granted to those stranded in India. We do not need the extra pressure of having to fill in and upload forms.”

R Parthiban, director at Delhi headquartered Swagatam Tours with offices in Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru that caters to travellers from Italy, France, and North America, said most stranded tourists had travelled on their own without operators.

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