Families separated by Covid-19 look forward to Singapore-India VTL

Both countries are in talks to restart scheduled commercial services with two daily VTL flights each from Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai by Nov 29, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

NEW DELHI - Mr Subhash Goyal, chairman of one of the largest travel groups in India, STIC Travel, is booking two tickets for him and his wife on the first available flight to Singapore in anticipation of the launch of a Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme between the two countries from Nov 29.

Both his daughters are in Singapore and he is keen on seeing his two grandsons, aged 11 and 12, for the first time in two years.

"I'm dying to see my two grandsons in Singapore. We talk every day," said Mr Goyal, 75.

"There is a huge demand for travel, and a lot of families are separated now because there are a lot of Indians working in Singapore," he added.

Under the VTL scheme, travellers from either country will be able to visit one another without the need for quarantine.

Mr Karun Arya, a 36-year-old tech executive in Singapore, welcomed the scheme as he and his wife were now able to see their respective parents.

"I'm thrilled. It's been an extremely frustrating year. We've been forced to watch from the sidelines as foreigners from other nationalities had a much easier time getting permission to leave and return to Singapore and, more recently, as VTLs went live with other countries," he said.

"This means we can now travel to India and our parents can travel to Singapore easily since we are all vaccinated ," he added.

India and Singapore share close ties with strong people-to-people links. There are many Indian nationals working in Singapore as well as permanent residents and Singaporeans with family in India.

The proportion of employment pass (EP) holders in Singapore who are Indian nationals has doubled from 13 per cent to 26 per cent between 2005 and 2020, Manpower Minister Tan See Leng told Parliament in July this year.

"Singapore has been key to relations with India, especially with a large number of Indian diaspora who call it home. I would expect (passenger) traffic to be back to normal to Singapore in six months if there is no significant uptake on Covid-19 again," said Mr Ajay Awtaney, editor of LiveFromALounge.com, an India-based aviation news website.

Both countries are in talks to restart scheduled commercial services with two daily VTL flights each from Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai by Nov 29.

Passengers at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai on Dec 22, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

At present, only relief flights are operating and ticket prices have soared to up to Rs 100,000 (S$1,821).

India is an important tourism market for Singapore, with 1.42 million visitors from the country recorded in 2019, the third largest visitor source for Singapore.

The Singapore Tourism Board has said it looked forward to welcoming Indian tourists again.

"We hope the VTL with India will be a significant first step towards a broader travel reopening. While we do not expect a major uptick in inbound tourists from India in the immediate term, it will be useful for travellers to get used to the new protocols and for both countries to streamline processes in the coming months," said Mr G.B. Srithar, regional director (India, Middle East and South Asia), Singapore Tourism Board.

"India is an important market for Singapore. We will market Singapore's varied offerings to our fans in India and look forward to welcoming Indian visitors once again when the VTL for India launches on Nov 29," he added.

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