You probably don’t know this but in India, COVID-19 is pretty much under control. Cases have been steadily dropping since peaking in September. Most restrictions have been eased and domestic travel is (almost) completely back. The densely populated country, with 3 times as many people than the entire EU on 73% of the surface, has seemingly been victorious in its battle coronavirus. In case you think the numbers are wrong and cannot be right, the numbers add up, it seems to be true.
We haven’t been hearing a lot about COVID-19 in India lately. The lack of recent news from the largest democracy in the world stands in stark contract from all the negative news stories we received over the summer. COVID-19 was spiralling out of control as India was only behind the United States as most affected country by the pandemic. But after a strong peak over the summer, cases of COVID-19 have been steadily declining over the last months. The number of COVID-19 infection have been fallen so strongly that the government has swiftly opened up again. There is no more lockdown and travel has been recovering quickly. This what we can read in India’s numbers.
India’s dropping COVID-19 infection rate
First of all the COVID-19 infection numbers. It is not just the number of positively tested people that has gone down, it is also the number of hospitalizations and deaths. Why India has COVID-19 under control while the rest of the world is still struggling seems to be a mystery to scientists. NPR.org wrote an interesting article about it titled ‘The Mystery Of India’s Plummeting COVID-19 Cases’.
While we have all seen images of Indian police officers enforcing the lockdown back in April, most restrictions are long gone. But somehow, it didn’t lead to a second major wave of infections. The country doesn’t have a harsh enforced lockdowns anymore. Somehow, India got over COVID-19 before the rest of the world did. Contacts that I have in India are confirming that live is back to normal. While some argue that India achieved heard immunity others point to India’s alternative ways of living or alternative health care as a possible cause. Others dispute the numbers and blame low testing. Whatever the cause we are mostly interested in the effects on the travel industry.
The Indian government has slowly been easing travel restrictions. While borders are mostly closed and you cannot enter India as a foreigner, the domestic travel industry has made a comeback. It is now possible to travel again through all means of transportation. You can hop on a flight from south to north and east to west. Although some restrictions still apply and people have to wear face masks and practice social distance, Indians can travel again.
India’s domestic travel markets on its way to make a full recovery
According to Simpleflying.com, India had one of the fastest aviation recoveries globally. This is driven by its domestic market where the number of passengers on domestic flights is already at 85% of pre-COVID levels. Like most other parts of the world, flights were resumed late May. Unlike the rest of the world, the growth in flights never stopped as there was no second wave of infections. While the recovery was slow initially, with about 33% of in late August, the recovery speeded up as India was able to leave the coronavirus crisis behind it.
While the domestic market has recovered, international flights are still down. India has only opened up its borders for its own nationals and has recently introduced strict quarantine rules. According to Simpleflying.com, demand for international flights is also very high, indicating an even swifter recovery once the vaccine has truly become widely available. According to Simpleflying.com, India is on track to reach its pre-COVID aviation traffic levels by the end of 2021. This makes my very optimistic about the industry. This recovery is much quicker than the pessimistic recovery that UNWTO predicted.
Yatra, an Indian online travel agency, is also seeing the results of the recovery of domestic travel. In its Q4 results, the effects of the recovering travel market were clearly visible, Phocuswire.com reports. Yatra CEO Dhruv Shringi pointed at the recovery of the airline industry as a clear indication that the travel industry is ‘well on its way to recovery’. This was also visible in the company’s results. ‘For the three months ending December 31, 2020, the online travel agency saw adjusted revenue [..] up 60% on the previous quarter but down 62% year-over-year. [..] Hotels and packages increased 141% on the previous quarter to $1.5 million, a 49% decrease’. For those thinking that new ways of working and home office are keeping business travellers out of airplanes, Indian data is not showing that. According to Airbus, Business Travellers have already started to come back.
What the rest of the world can learn from India’s travel recovery
We are not scientists or medics. We can therefore not say anything meaningful about why India is able to keep the infection rate so low. What we can do is look at data from India’s travel industry.
While many in Europe and the United States wouldn’t look at the Indian market, we believe it clearly shows how the travel industry will recover. India is ahead of us and we can definitely learn from their experience. If the number of infections continues a downward trend, India will the travel world in recovery. Domestic travel by itself, including leisure travel, will make a quick comeback. Business travel will return quickly as well. This is good news for all businesses and economies around the world relying on tourism and business travel. As soon as the pandemic is under control, people will start to travel again.