Amidst the azure waters of the Bay of Bengal lies the captivating allure of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands - a tropical paradise for travellers seeking solace in its pristine beaches and diverse marine life.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic cast a shadow over this idyllic destination, plunging its vibrant tourism industry into turmoil. As the islands strive to emerge from the depths of the crisis, the journey towards revival presents both challenges and opportunities that demand concerted efforts and support.

The impact of the pandemic on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands' tourism sector has been profound.

In 2020, as travel restrictions tightened and safety concerns escalated, tourist arrivals plummeted by a staggering 95%, dealing a severe blow to the islands' economy heavily reliant on tourism. Despite gradual relaxations in 2021, the resurgence of visitors remained tepid, exacerbating the economic downturn that gripped the archipelago.

The year 2022 brought with it a fresh set of challenges as the Veer Savarkar International Airport runway was closed for maintenance further hindering recovery efforts. With connectivity disrupted and accessibility compromised, the tourism industry faced yet another setback, prolonging the islands' path to revitalization.

Girish Arora, Executive Member of FHRAI and MD of SeaShell Hotels & Resorts in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands emphasizes the indispensable role of tourism in the region's economic fabric. He delves into several critical aspects pivotal to the resurgence of tourism, shedding light on the multifaceted challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

According to the official data shared by him, the total passenger arrivals in the calendar year 2018 were recorded at a peak of 8,91,299, out of which 5,21,521 were tourists. However, in 2023, the figures correspond to a total of 6,82,260 passenger arrivals and only 3,95,000 tourist arrivals, which is 23% lower than pre-COVID levels.

The prominent tourist attractions of the Andaman Islands, comprising Port Blair, Swaraj Dweep (Havelock Island), and Shaheed Dweep (Neil Island), boast a substantial hospitality sector. There are 250 hotels, with an inventory of 4000+ rooms, 147 hotels with an inventory of 2190 rooms and 75 hotels with close to 1195 rooms respectively in these islands. Collectively, the hospitality sector, cabs, tour operators, activities operators, Passenger ferries, and restaurants contribute 1200 crores annual revenue to the islands’ economy. However, the pandemic-induced downturn has significantly impacted these sectors, resulting in substantially lower revenue compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Even the GST revenue generated by the islands has only increased from 360 crores in 2019-2020 to 376 crores in 2022-2023, reflecting a mere 16 crore raise in three years.

The repercussions of the tourism decline extend beyond economic implications. This high-revenue tourism sector in the Andaman Islands is also a significant source of employment which directly supports the livelihoods of around 20,000 individuals. These jobs span a diverse range of roles and responsibilities, contributing to various facets of the tourism industry. These individuals are now faced with uncertain prospects as the islands navigate the complexities of recovery.

Despite concerted efforts, the islands' tourism sector continues to grapple with significant hurdles as indicated by Girish Arora with the persistently low tourist arrivals and revenue figures.

He elaborates that while initiatives such as Explore Indian Islands, Swadesh Darshan, Bharat Dekho, and Wed in India, championed by the Modi government have injected vitality into India's tourism sector, sustained support is imperative to catalyze the Andaman & Nicobar Islands' revival.

He also points out that connectivity to these islands is also a key point vital to the revival of the tourism sector.

According to him, the BJP-led central government had indeed brought stability within the aviation industry of India. The improvements seen in recent years such as addition of new airports, upgrades in existing airport infrastructure, ease in regulations, and the incorporation of new aircraft into major airline fleets, are all expected to enhance connectivity and accessibility for travelers.

However, the recent flight arrivals data of A & N Islands attest that in 2019, there were 22 daily flights to these islands, a figure that has now decreased to only 16 flights per day in 2024.

Mr Arora expresses hope that the islands' future heralds the possibility of increased flight frequencies due to night operations, particularly with the installation of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) at Veer Savarkar International Airport. Additionally, he anticipates that much-needed reductions in airfares for this sector will also be possible due to the extended operation time.

As the world gradually adapts to the new normal, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands stand at a crossroads, poised between adversity and opportunity. While the road to recovery may be fraught with challenges, the islands' inherent beauty and untapped potential continue to beckon travellers from far and wide.

With concerted efforts and unwavering support, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands can reclaim their status as a premier destination on India's tourism map, ushering in a new era of prosperity and growth.

Hoteliers Association A & N Islands