International tourism takes a beating amidst Omicron scare


It was among the sectors that took one of the hardest beatings with the onset of the pandemic, and also one that bounced back with equal rigour, thanks to what was termed ‘revenge tourism’. But like it happened with the vicious second wave of COVID-19 infections, a new variant is already affecting tourism, and specifically, international tourism.

Global tour operators, who were banking on the holiday season, are witnessing cancellations to foreign destinations amidst the Omicron scare. Sanjar Imam from the Karnataka Tourism Forum told The Hindu that though domestic tourism is not yet affected, the Omicron strain of the coronavirus is having a definite impact on international travel.

“We have had some cancellations for South Africa particularly. International travel had just picked up, but now people are seeing even Europe as too much of a risk. Further, they are also avoiding travel to other African countries such as Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania and Egypt,” he said.

In-bound travel too

The owner of an international travel agency, who requested anonymity, said it was not just outbound; inbound tourism, too, has been affected. “We are seeing cancellations in inbound bookings from the US now. Even from other places, there is definitely a worry because of new rules being put in place in India. Many are postponing trips to next year. In fact, even parents whose children are studying abroad and want to return for the holidays are reconsidering because they are scared that borders may be shut again,” she said.

The travel industry, especially international tourism, was just recovering from the pandemic, she said. “We had clients asking about destinations such as the Netherlands for January. But countries have begun shutting borders. Earlier, we would have said yes. But now there is too much uncertainty. A corporate meet in Switzerland was recently pushed to May 2022 after they initially started banning participants from at-risk countries. Travel to Europe and the UK is out of the question now,” she added.

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December is among the peak travel seasons. But enquiries, operators say, have dried up. The silver lining, they say, is Maldives, which appears to have become the go-to destination for anyone who can afford it. “There is a lot of traffic to Maldives. Hotels are almost full and no one is cancelling. The other destination seeing some amount of traffic is Sri Lanka. Dubai, which is usually popular, is affected due to high airfares, so people are thinking twice,” said another tour operator.

‘S. African borders are open’

When contacted, South African Tourism, while not acknowledging the impact of the new variant, said, “We are cognizant of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron (B.1.1.529) identified in South Africa, and applaud the diligence and swiftness of local scientists who quickly discovered the variant through collaborative efforts. We have complete confidence in the country’s health sector, which has demonstrated resilience, competence and exceptional expertise since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020.”

However, they maintained that the country is open to tourism: “At present, South African borders continue to remain open and the destination is ready to welcome leisure tourists and business events delegates from all over the world. We assure travellers that the safety of South African residents and all visitors to the country continues to remain of the utmost importance.”



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Sagar Biswas

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