Mumbai attack to hit business visits, tourism from US

By Lalit K. Jha, IANS,

New York : The flow of visitors to India from the US and other parts of the Western world – both for business and tourism – is likely to be badly hit in the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed more than 180 people.

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Tour operators, travel agents and Indian diplomats in New York told IANS that they expect the number of people from the US to India to come down sharply in the coming weeks and months, with the upcoming Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Chennai in January likely to be the immediate casualty.

New Jersey-based Pradeep Peter Kothari, who has been running a travel business for 25 years, said his company has received requests for cancellation from many travellers who had booked their tickets from the US to various Indian cities.

Since the penalty for cancellation or change of airline tickets is too high these days, Kothari said given the situation in Mumbai following the terrorist attack this week, he has sought advice from the respective airlines as to what best can be done under the circumstances.

Ramesh Shah, a tour operator based in Queens, New York, also said that in the last few days several people have cancelled their confirmed tours to India.

The cancellation has not only been for Mumbai or big city specific tours but also for rather peaceful places like Kerala, Shah said. “We expect our business to be badly hit in the coming months,” Shah told IANS.

An official of India Tourism, based in New York, said though it is too early to reach a definite conclusion, indications in this regard are not very positive.

While the offices were closed most part of this week because of Thanksgiving, followed by the weekend, the official, who requested anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media, said feelers from tour operators indicate the rush to travel to India is expected to come down drastically.

After the Indian government launched the “Incredible India” campaign in the US last year with a mega “India at 60” festival in New York, there has been a significant jump in the flow of tourists from the US to India.

This was reflected in the number of travel visas issued by the Indian embassy and consulates in the United States. P.S. Sasi Kumar, consul (consular, passport, visa and community affairs), said the Indian consulate in New York has issued more than 100,000 visas this year, a record in itself.

However, the travel advisory issued by the State Department after the Mumbai attack would have its impact on those applying for Indian visa, Kumar admitted.

Already the Indian consulates in New York and Chicago have received requests from a few applicants to “hold” on to their visa applications, given the changed situation in India after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last week.

Kumar said it is after a long time that the State Department has issued a travel advisory for India.

“Due to the fluid situation in Mumbai, Americans are urged to defer travel to Mumbai for at least the next 48-72 hours,” said the advisory, issued Nov 27.

“Americans throughout India should be vigilant about security at all times,” it said. A State Department travel advisory is taken very seriously by Americans before they plan their overseas travel.

Major airlines that operate daily flights to Indian cities declined to respond to queries about cancellation of tickets in view of the terrorist attack in Mumbai.

Officials at the John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and the Newark International Airport in New Jersey, however, said while flights from India were packed to full capacity, this was not the case for India-bound flights.