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‘Vaccine tourism’ resurfaces after Indians scramble to book Moscow trip for Sputnik jabs

Dubai-based travel agency Arabian Nights Tours has been inundated with calls after a draft flyer of their Delhi-Moscow vaccine tour package was leaked on social media.

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New Delhi: After a draft flyer of a 23-night ‘vaccine tourism package’ from Delhi to Moscow was leaked on social media, Dubai-based travel agency Arabian Nights Tours has been inundated with calls from eager Indians enquiring about it.

According to company executive Ankit Jain, the package has not been launched yet. “We have not launched the package yet. We drafted the flyer but it got leaked from our marketing team,” Jain told ThePrint.

And yet, the company has been fielding calls by Indians, who want to get vaccinated, about the Rs 1.29-lakh package, advertised by the flyer. The package includes a four-day stay in St. Petersburg, but its highlight is the promise of both the doses of the Sputnik V vaccine and a vaccination certificate.

While Jain maintained that the package is yet to be launched, Sujeet Singh, the Ahmedabad-based director of sales for Arabian Nights Tours, told ETTravelWorld that the package was, in fact, sold out to vaccine seekers from Dubai.

When asked about the logistics of the move, since the flyer says the tour is from Delhi to Moscow and not Dubai to Moscow, Jain said: “Right now, we are in the ideation stage. We haven’t yet got approvals from the Russian government about how travellers will get the vaccine. Also, we have not taken money from anyone.”

Russia is currently one of the few countries that allows Indians entry with just a negative PCR report and no quarantine on arrival, which could be a reason for the popularity of the package. The tour package also includes 20 days accommodation in a hotel, all meals, flights and a few days of sight-seeing.

The Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine recently received emergency approval from the Government of India, and is the third vaccine to be in circulation in the country besides Covishield and Covaxin.

At present, it is only available in the private sector and is expected to be available in small and medium-sized hospitals from next month.

Citing the fact that the vaccine is already available in India, Jyoti Mayal, president of Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) said that the package “doesn’t make sense”.

“I’m not sure why they are offering to take people to Russia when the Sputnik V vaccine has got approval in India,” Mayal told ThePrint.

Also read: Sputnik V could become part of India’s national vaccination programme after July

Other companies scrap vaccine tourism packages

Vaccine tourism is not a new phenomenon and travel agencies in India had been preparing similar packages till early this year.

In December 2020, ThePrint spoke to travel agencies that had been in the process of preparing such packages in response to a large demand from Indians who wanted to travel abroad to get the jabs. At the time, countries like the UK and the US had approved Covid vaccines for emergency-use but India had not.

These travel companies included Zenith Holidays in Kolkata, Gem Tours & Travels in Mumbai and Chariot World Tours in Bengaluru.

However, all these companies have now scrapped their packages as they failed to get approval from governments in the US and UK to provide vaccine access for foreigners.

Gem Tours & Travels was formulating a tour package from Mumbai to New York priced at approximately Rs 1.75 lakh per head, which has now been scrapped.

“We will come out with a new package aimed at the single Pfizer shot, so that the trip can be shorter. But it’s a waiting game for approvals and we also have to take into account other countries’ flight bans in view of India’s second wave,” said a senior official of the travel company.

Also read: Pfizer shot after AstraZeneca is safe, could induce better immune response, researchers find

‘Lots of countries not ready to welcome Indians’

According to Atmanand Shanbhag, chairman of Chariot World Tours, their 4-5 night tour package from Bengaluru to London priced at Rs 1.29 lakh has also hit a dead end.

“With the current number of cases in India, lots of countries are not ready to welcome Indians. I doubt the Russian tourism industry would be open to such tours,” Shanbhag told ThePrint.

Over 15 countries have banned arrivals from India because of the severe second wave of the pandemic that has hit the country. Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) termed a Covid-19 variant first identified in India as a “variant of concern”.

Meanwhile, Zenith Holidays has shifted focus away from tourism packages and towards importing medical aid for corporates and individuals.

For example, the company is offering Turkey-made oxygen concentrators for workplaces — Rs. 59,999 for 5 litre devices and Rs. 1.24 lakh for 10 litre devices — to meet the acute oxygen shortage that the country’s hospitals have been facing.

Also read: India’s daily average Covid vaccinations dipped by nearly 50% between April and May


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