Kochi: Making history, a group of 24 tourists including 70-year-old Anantha Kamath and 4-year-old John Franklin - 13 men, 9 women and 2 children altogether - took off from Kochi's international airport to the US, the first such group from India to the US since the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.
They flew out of Kochi by Qatar Airways’ flight QR 517/701 on the wee small hours of Friday to JFK, New York via Doha, Qatar and will be spending 15 days in the US visiting NY, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Washington DC, Niagara Falls, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, said a beaming M K Soman, Managing Director, Soman's, the leading outbound tour operator in Kerala, who operates the first US package from India since the pandemic.
"We understand that this is not just the first from India but the first-ever group tour to the US from anywhere in the world since Covid," he said. Out of these 24 tourists, 22 of them are visiting the US for the first time,” he added.
Commenting on the path-breaking moment, Soman said his company was constantly on the lookout for such an opportunity throughout the uncertain days of pandemic which made them the first to make it a reality. "Since the markets started opening, we have already started operating to the European, Russian and Middle Eastern sectors. We were again the first to operate tours to Europe from south India and second in India since Thomas Cook when we took a group of 32 tourists to Europe on October 18. On October 30, we took another 30 to Russia. However, taking tourists to the US was a totally different ball game as the main catch was US consulates had not started issuing visas yet and we had had to find out people who already hold valid visas. Luckily, our marketing team and existing clients responded fast and we were able to find out these many people, most of them who were issued visas just before the lockdowns in early 2020 and were waiting for their first travel to the US," he said.
As a gesture to instil confidence, Jeena Fernandes, Director, Soman's, is also travelling with the group to the US. Before taking off, she also said Soman's is excited to create history by taking the first group of tourists to the US. "We were eagerly watching the markets - hotels, tourist attractions, destinations and airlines - to start taking bookings. In some cases, airlines started booking but we did face restrictions in destinations. And now, after we finalised our bookings, we understand that some of the airlines across the world have again stopped taking group bookings as some of the destinations imposed restrictions. Anyway, we could make use of this opportunity and start off and we are sure it will be a matter of a few days before the world goes back to normalcy," she said.
Soman said he hopes his company, which turns 25 years this December, with this major achievement, will inspire tour operators and the hospitality industry across the country and the world to shun fear and start their operations as earlier to make the world a better place again with more jobs and more holidaying people. He also said his company is not going to sit on the laurels but wants to storm back to normalcy with more tours - a group of another 35 passengers to Russia on November 20 and a group of 21 passengers to Europe on November 21. "In the Dubai sector, it's already back to normal for us and we have completed so many packages since the markets opened and our forthcoming packages in this sector include the ones on November 14, December 2, 18 and 25, January 10, 17 and 24 and on February 11,” he said.