Amid the ongoing diplomatic tensions between India and Canada, there are apprehensions of a downtrend in the hospitality sector in Punjab, which draws many Non-Resident Indians (NRI) on visits to their home country between October and January every year for the lucrative festivals and weddings season. The Punjabi diaspora has a strong presence in several countries, including and significantly, Canada, apart from the U.K., Australia, and the U.S.
India has suspended visa services for Canadian travellers citing “operational reasons” in the face-off between the two nations over the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a pro-Khalistan leader and a Canadian national. The suspension does not impact Canadians holding Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards and valid Indian visas.
“The face-off between India and Canada has instilled a sense of panic among travellers. People from Canada are hesitant to travel to India, and vice versa. This has started to affect our business,” Inderpal Singh, the joint owner of a leading hotel in Jalandhar, said.
“Between October and January every year, a good number of NRIs come to enjoy festivities. Many come to attend wedding ceremonies, and get married as well. However, I am now receiving calls from visitors who had reserved dates for marriage ceremonies but are asking to cancel their reservations as they are anxious about their relatives’ travel plans amid the unease between the two countries. For now, we have convinced them to wait for a few days but I’m sure that if the situation between India and Canada doesn’t improve, I will lose all the reservations,” Mr. Singh rued.
Satish Kumar Arora, president of the Punjab Hotel, Restaurant, and Resort Association, also expressed concern over impending losses. “Like every year, we were expecting a brisk business this season as well, but now it seems to be in the doldrums. NRIs come here to perform marriages in the traditional manner and spend lavishly on ceremonies, which bring in handsome business for the hospitality and allied sectors, including garments, jewellery, cabs-taxis etc. In Punjab, we have close to 12,000 registered wedding venues, including hotels and ‘marriage palaces’,” Mr. Arora said.
He said that for the last few years, Punjab has been witnessing an average of 3,500 bookings for marriage ceremonies by people who are settled outside the country, “and Canada is the key one”. “This year, for the upcoming season we have a little over 12,000 bookings for marriages. Of this, around 3,000 are by NRIs, but since the face-off started, a sense of panic has struck and several NRIs have been calling to either cancel or postpone the bookings. It’s a big setback. The sector was expecting to get back on its feet after COVID. We have had floods recently, too. If the [diplomatic] tension doesn’t ease, our business is bound to suffer,” Mr. Arora added.
Rajiv Mehra, president, Indian Association of Tour Operators, a prominent tourism sector body, shared a similar view. “While it’s too early to gauge the economic impact of the tension and the visa restriction, certainly it will have an adverse impact on the tourism sector. Canada is one of the major resource markets for India. The period from October to April is when people from foreign countries travel to India in good numbers. So, naturally, if there is a fall in people visiting our country, including Punjab, business will be impacted,” Mr. Mehra said.
Ruing the imminent losses, A.P. Singh Chatha, president, the Civil Lines-based Amritsar Hotel and Restaurant Association said business has already taken a hit this season. “We have been receiving requests for cancellation and postponement of wedding-related events at our hotels and banquets in Amritsar in the past week following the visa suspension and tension between India and Canada,” Mr. Chatha said.
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