Namaste, not handshakes: What tourists should expect when India reopens to travellers

Hotels must also screen guests' temperatures, while travellers must wear masks at airports

India is closed to tourists. Like many countries around the world, its borders are currently sealed in an effort to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

But travel within the country, which has a population of nearly 1.4 billion, has restarted and tourism officials have created new rules and regulations designed to protect travellers and those working in the tourism industry.

As the country looks ahead to a time when it will once again welcome international visitors, new guidelines aimed at travel operators, service providers, hotels, restaurants and guesthouses have been revealed.

A passenger waits to board her flight at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) after domestic flights resumed, in Mumbai on May 28, 2020.   Domestic air travel resumed in India on May 25 after a two-month shutdown over the coronavirus pandemic, a top minister said May 27, in a further easing of the lockdown. The government halted all domestic traffic on March 25 days after suspending international flights as it imposed a strict nationwide shut down to halt the spread of the coronavirus. 
 / AFP / INDRANIL MUKHERJEE

The Ministry of Tourism’s recommended protocols begin with airport services. Advice includes ensuring that staff and travellers wear face masks and remain socially distanced from others. Guests should be welcomed via the traditional greeting of a namaste gesture, with both hands pressed together. This is encouraged as the correct way to greet tourists arriving in India over methods such as handshaking.

In cars, no more than two travellers can sit in the back seat and public transport for groups of more than 10 people are not recommended.

Many of India’s tourism attractions and cultural sites have already reopened or are in the process of doing so. Enhanced hygiene protocols are in place and travellers are advised to purchase tickets online to avoid queuing when they reach these places. At all monuments and museums across the country, gloves must be worn by tourists and staff.

Tour guides should make use of microphones and headsets in order to conduct sightseeing tours and maintain a physical distance of at least 1.8 metres between people.

Hotel safety regulations

When checking in to hotels, travellers must keep a two-metre distance between themselves and front desk staff, and every guest must complete a health declaration form. The use of technology – such as apps, phones or intercoms – to communicate with staff in the lobby or on the front desk is recommended rather than face-to-face contact.

Hotels must screen all travellers for elevated temperatures and must designate isolation facilities where travellers, or staff, can stay if they display signs of Covid-19. Trained rapid response teams should also be allocated in each hotel. These staff members will be responsible for preventing incidents and advising on Covid-19 protection policies throughout the property.

At hotels and in restaurants, staff must wear gloves and face masks at all times, regularly changing them after dealing with each customer. In restaurants, tables must be carefully spaced to ensure there is appropriate distance between groups of diners.

Domestic tourism has seen a steady rise since travel restrictions across India were lifted two weeks ago. On June 8, 15 days after domestic flights were allowed to restart in India, official figures said that 53,331 travellers flew within the country.