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Travelling without borders

One of the subtler indicators of the chasm that separates nations in the global north from those in the global south is the power of the passport held by their citizens.

Travelling without borders
Representative Image

New York

As per the latest Henley Passport Index, which was released last week, India’s rank has slipped by six places from last year and it is ranked 90 this year. The index, which lists the world’s most travel-friendly passports, is a resource that helps stakeholders in the business and tourists in drafting their holiday plans.

It ranks the passports of nations as per the number of destinations their holders can travel to, without a prior visa. The results are based on data provided by the International Air Transport Association. The gross disparity between developed nations and emerging economies is clearly visible in their rankings. Leading the pack are nations like Japan and Singapore, whose citizens can travel to 192 nations without a visa. South Korea and Germany trail right behind followed by many nations in the European Union, as well as the US, UK, Canada and Australia. India is ranked alongside Burkina Faso and Tajikistan, and the citizens of these three nations can travel visa-free to 58 nations.

The release of this index coincides with many nations easing travel rules and attempting to get back on their feet on the travel front. India has been at the receiving end of restrictive travel protocols, from the UK, which had until recently chosen to impose a 14-day quarantine even on fully vaccinated passengers from India. Even for affluent individuals with the wherewithal to spend lakhs on a single holiday, shearing off 15 days from a vacation leaves no days for travelling or sightseeing. Ordinary holidaymakers might altogether put off such plans due to the hassles involved.

Aspirational travellers from India keen on global sojourns are also bound by other concerns. Apart from the cost of tickets and accommodation, there are exorbitant visa costs which in the case of the US and Europe range between Rs 8,000-Rs 12,000 per head. Pack in a four-member family, and you end up spending half a lakh just to get through immigration. Most developed nations also expect applicants to file copies of their income tax returns for the past few years, to ascertain whether the said travellers do not use the vacation as an excuse to stay back as a stowaway.

It’s why more Indian travellers choose to holiday in south-east Asian destinations like Krabi or Bali, which are comparatively pocket-friendly. The International Tourism Highlights Report 2020 compiled by the World Tourism Organization sheds light on where India stands when it comes to important metrics such as travel balance. This is calculated as the difference between international tourism receipts (inbound) and international tourism expenditure (outbound). International tourism can generate a tourism trade surplus when receipts exceed expenditure or a deficit (vice versa) in the travel balance of countries.

Among emerging economies, India, Mexico and Malaysia have recorded a surplus in the range of $6 billion to $15 billion, while Thailand and Macao (China) boast the largest travel surpluses. India makes more money from inbound international tourists than from its own citizens going abroad. On the other hand, China remains the world’s largest spender, spending as much as $255 bn (20% of global tourism spending), followed by the US. It’s going to take some time before India finds itself in that league. The restarting of the global economy will require developed nations to encourage inward flow of migration. On one hand, it will deliver benefits to the host nation, thanks to new travellers who will spend on F&B, accommodation and sightseeing. It could help travel operators based in developing nations, who specialise in global destinations to get their mojo back. It will also free up the local travel scene in India by reducing the burden of over-tourism and upping the quality of service delivery and promoting sustainable travel practices.

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