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India-Canada standoff: Travel operators foresee crowds thinning in peak year-end season

With the peak year-end tourism season in sight, tour operators and travel agents expressed concerns about the latest impasse in India-Canada relations with the temporary halting of visa services by New Delhi on Thursday.

Industry insiders said while it would have some bearing on the inbound tourism market, what could make matters worse is a potential retaliatory measure by Canada.

A Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson said on Thursday that all categories of visas were suspended for Canada.

“The issue is not about travel to India. Those who have valid visas and other documents like OCIs (overseas citizens of India) are free to travel to India. But the issues of incitement of violence, the inaction by the Canadian authorities and the creation of an environment that disrupts the functioning of our high commission and consulates, that is what is making us stop the issuance of visas and providing these visa services temporarily,” he added.

Dipak Deva, managing director of inbound travel company Travel Corporation of India, said such advisories and measures create doubts in the minds of travellers and visa is one of the most important deterrents for travel. “If a strict visa regime comes into play on both sides, and visa issuance is restricted by both countries, it will automatically lead to a slowdown in travel. The tourists will suffer,” he added.

Jyoti Mayal, president of the Travel Agents Association of India, said the move will lead to a lot of cancellations. “There are a lot of bookings that have already been done. A lot of passports are lying in the embassy. There’s going to be a lot of turmoil till the time it’s not sorted out or if we don’t come to an understanding,” she added.Anil Pathak, chairman and chief storytelling officer of Peirce & Leslie, said about 15% of his overall inbound business is from Canada.”From a business perspective, it doesn’t bother me too much as we are heavily skewed towards the US and this year looks promising so far. What does bother me is that there could be Canadian people who have booked with us and they don’t have their visas yet,” he said. “This would lead to problems for them. They will cancel. I think if there are concerns around bigotry and violence then the matter should be handled through conversations by both countries and not by barring people from travel,” he added.

As per statistics released by the Ministry of Tourism, Canadians accounted for 4.2% of foreign tourist arrivals in India from January to July this year. The bulk of foreign tourists who visited India was from Bangladesh (23.7%), followed by the US (17.9%) and the UK (9.5%). Australia contributed 4% to the foreign tourist arrival numbers.

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