Indian travel agents swamped with calls from people asking how to get to UK for vaccine

Hot on the heels of UK’s grant of approval to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine

Shweta Sharma
Thursday 03 December 2020 14:12 GMT
Indian travel agencies are offering tour packages for the US and UK to get vaccinated
Indian travel agencies are offering tour packages for the US and UK to get vaccinated (Getty Images)

The news of the UK approving the coronavirus vaccine produced by Pfizer-BioNTech for public use has led to a wave of excitement in India as well, with some keen to visit Britain to get their jabs.

Riding on the growing buzz around the vaccine, travel agencies in India are exploring the potentially lucrative “vaccine vacation” to give a boost to the country’s pandemic-hit tourism industry.  

Nishant Pitti, co-founder of leading Indian online travel agency, told The Independent that searches for flights to London have risen sharply with people enquiring about the Pfizer vaccine.

Mr Pitti said they working to launch a 7-8 days package for the UK worth Rs125,000 (£1,259) after they get the necessary approvals from the authorities in London.  The cost is all-inclusive of air fair, stay, cab rides and of course vaccine. 

“The searches have shot up from 100 to 900 in a day on our website and people are calling up asking if they can get the vaccine shot and how much it would cost,” Mr Pitti said. “The London branch of Easemytrip is working out the details and trying to get the necessary approvals.”

He said that the company has already cracked a deal with an airline which has agreed to provide the seats at Rs 54,000 (£544) inclusive of taxes, and also with hotels in the UK for lodgings requirements.

However, the elaborate plans depend upon if and when the UK government will allow non-residents of the country to get the much-anticipated vaccine.

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the vaccine, which would be enough to vaccinate 20 million people out of its total population of almost 70 million.  

On 2 December, the UK became the first country to give approval to the vaccine candidate developed by US-based Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech for a mass vaccination programme. The jab, which provides 95 per cent protection against Covid-19, will be rolled out next week.

But firms are also already offering tailor-made package holidays to other countries seen as close to their own vaccination breakthroughs, including the US and Russia. 

Kolkata-based Zenith Holidays, a travel firm with 30 branches across the country and 12 overseas offices, is just awaiting for the US to approve a vaccine and provide approvals to float their “Covid vaccine tourism package”, costing Rs 149,999 (£1,510). A brochure has already been shared online.

“The package has been made and floated to our team, and we are waiting for the US government to issue vaccine distribution guidelines before we promote this actively on our official social channels,” Anindya Roy, Manager of Zenith holiday leisure travel told The Independent.

“We as a travel agent will facilitate the travel part when USA govt allows the availability of vaccine for foreigners”

The travel company clarified they are right now creating a database of the people interested in these packages and they are not collecting advance payments for it.  

These packages are not restricted by a particular vaccine. Zenith holiday has launched similar packages for Russia, which has already started the retail sale of its Sputnik V vaccine. However, the package would be subject to the Russian government issuing tourist visas for the purpose.

Another Mumbai-based agency, Gem Tours and Travels, has launched a prominent promotions campaign on Twitter offering people the option to be the “first one to get the vaccine”.

“Be among the first to get Corona Vaccine: As soon as Pfizer Vaccine is officially published to sell in America (Tentative date 11th Dec) we are ready to get it done for select FEW VVIP Clients (sic),” the viral text message read.  

GST, visa costs and “ground transportation” cost would be incurred additionally and the offer is on a first come-first serve basis at an offering of Rs 174,999 (£1,762), read the message.

However, it later clarified that they do not have the vaccine and the tour for vaccine would be arranged after the approvals.

“Everything we will arrange will be within laws of United States of America. We will only process your requirements,” said the company, adding they are not collecting any money at the moment.

Gem Tours and Travels has already received almost 2,500 enquiry calls from people asking about the vaccine, director Hemang Doshi told Bloomberg.

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