New Delhi: Foreign tourist arrivals in 2022 till August have reached close to 50% of the numbers during the corresponding period in the pre-pandemic year 2019, according to the government data, with officials pointing out that the recovery so far has been on the expected lines.

According to data sourced from the ministry of tourism, a total of 3,263,219 foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) have been recorded this year till August, which is 47.2% of the 6,914,987 foreign travelers who visited the country in the corresponding period in 2019.

In terms of month-wise recovery, the data suggests that while the FTAs in January this year were 18.1% of the corresponding figures in 2019, it increased up to 78.3% of the pre-pandemic year numbers in July. The figure stood at 62.2% in August with 498,243 arrivals as compared to 800,837 in the corresponding month in 2019.

“There is an ongoing war in Europe and international air fares are high. Under these circumstances, the recovery numbers are as expected,” said tourism secretary Arvind Singh. “Based on current booking trends, India should reach pre-Covid levels of international arrivals by early 2023.”

In January this year, 201,546 FTAs were recorded in the country and the figure was 18.1% of the 1,111,040 foreign travelers during the first month of 2019. Similarly, February saw 240,896 FTAs (22.1% of the 2019 figures), March 342,308 (35%), April 392,930 (50.7%), May 423,701 (68.9%), June 522,737 (72%), and July recorded 640,858 FTAs, which stood at 78.3% of the 818,125 foreign travelers visiting the country in the corresponding month in 2019, as per the data.

Inbound leisure at close to 50% of the pre-Covid level is not a big deviation from the expected figures, said Kapil Kaul, chief executive officer (CEO), South Asia, CAPA, an aviation consultancy firm.

“Downside in numbers due to visa issues and high air fares continuing Covid-19 overhang. Outbound travel faces similar issues like inbound — visa issues and high air fares — and I don’t see it changing in the next six months,” said Kaul. “Our marketing to bring inbound leisure back has not picked up as expected. Outbound tourism is expected to be back to pre-Covid level by first quarter of FY 2024 and inbound by the end of FY 2024.”

He, however, cautioned that “visa issues and high fares may from time to time contribute to the downside”. “The Ukraine war is impacting our key source market, which is Europe,” he added.

The scheduled international operations were suspended from March 23, 2020 till March 27, 2022, leading to a sharp drop in passenger traffic in FY2021 and FY2022 compared to pre-pandemic years.

“With the resumption of scheduled international operations from March 27, 2022, international passenger traffic for Indian carriers is on a growth trajectory and is short only by approximately 7% in the first quarter of FY2023 when compared to pre-Covid levels,” an internal report of ratings agency ICRA read.

It further said that despite healthy recovery in passenger traffic, the “domestic aviation industry currently faces major turbulence because of elevated aviation turbine fuel (ATF) prices, and recent depreciation of INR vis-à-vis the US$, both of which have a major bearing on the cost structure of airlines”.

By Shadab

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