India's travel and tourism industry has once again urged the government to consider taking multiple steps to ease the pressure on the sector and help it tide over the crisis as the surge in Covid infections and re-imposition of partial travel restrictions in some major states threatens its survival.
The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), the apex body of inbound tour operators, has urged the government to extend the scope of air bubble arrangements that India is having with different countries for flight operations to include movement of India-destined leisure travellers as well. This, it feels, will help the industry get some overseas tourist traffic.
India has air bubble arrangements with some countries like Sri Lanka, and as per the understanding, they are allowing Indian tourists to visit their country. IATO has said that the government could permit similar arrangements for tourists from Sri Lanka and other countries with which India has air bubble arrangement.
Besides, it has also requested the government to draw a timetable as per which dates for opening of visas, including e-visas, and resumption of international flights can be announced. Such a move will allow the Indian tour operators to sound their counterparts abroad in advance and bookings could be made likewise, it said.
Further countries are opening up for travel for those fully vaccinated and India can adopt the same model, the IATO added in its submission to the government.
The pandemic has hit all the sectors of the economy hard but the hardest hit is the tourism sector, especially the inbound one, which is almost at zilch level since last one year.
Among the financial incentive, the IATO has urged abolishment of levy of tax collection at source (TCS) on foreign tourists as they are not liable to pay income tax in India and therefore cannot claim refund as they don't have a PAN number.
IATO President Rajiv Mehra said: "We have made multiple representations to the government, bringing to their notice that the objective of the TCS levy was to bring Indians in the tax net and it was not meant for taxing international tourists and as a result we are losing business to neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and other countries where no such levy is charged."
IATO has also requested the government to urgently announce Service Export Incentive Scheme (SEIS) for financial year 2019-20 which has been delayed by almost one year now. Announcing this will lead to some cash flow for tour operators which is critical for their survival.