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Goa’s Tourism Economy could be very hard hit this season, as Russian Tourist arrivals to fall in 2017 thanks to Syria

Thanks to the war in Syria and the almost direct confrontation of the USA with Russia, the Tourism economy in Goa is likely to be really hard hit in the coming tourist seasons of 2017-18, as foreign tourist arrivals during the monsoon season will decline to almost zero.

To add to the international scenario with war looming in Europe, the Goa government has been involved in its own domestic issues.

This year (2017-18) there has been little or no international promotion of Goa with Nilesh Cabral of the GTDC busy in his own backyard and Manohar Parrikar busy buying and selling MLAs to keep his own government stable, the state of Goa has missed out on a lot of international promotion over the last 4 months.

Over the last few years, the earlier BJP-led government had appointed PR consultants (who though good at their work) had little or no understand of the macro situation in Goa. What drives the foreign tourist to come to Goa year after year – the image consultants had zero idea of the ground realities and merely tried to plug articles in the foreign press.

Paid write-up, advertising blurbs and articles in international media forums like Trip adviser, The Guardian, the BBC or other local Russian media or for that matter ads on social media forums like VK (vontake) are required but will not suffice to lure the price conscious international traveler who has several other options today.

We tried to contact the current Goa Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar and the Goa Tourism department  senior officials who did not attend to our calls. One tourism official told us that Ajgaonkar was too occupied with the  Lamani issue.

The Goa Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar had made a comment that Lamanis should be removed from the beaches of Goa, if they continue to harass tourists. The Lamani’s – a sort of colorfully dressed gypsy tribal group  largely belongs to North Karnataka and sell their wares on beaches and public spots in Goa.

A Goa Tourism official confided to IndiaNewsNet.IN that this season the Goa government did not have any plan to promote tourism internationally. Speaking to this reporter on condition on anonymity, the senior tourism official said that the Goa government is yet to prepare a plan for tourism promotion this year, although 2-3 months have already passed.

Several tourist operators in Europe, UK and Russia said that not a single new tourist has booked a long stay in Goa during the monsoon and they do not expect any further bookings during this coming season either.

Also Read: Why Goa is no longer the preferred holiday destination for the high paying foreign tourist?

The problems with Russian tourist operators is not any better this year. For the last few years, Russia-linked tour operators in Goa want the state government to first remedy their problems, failing which they say that the inflow of Russian tourists would be affected drastically even next year. They said that although they have made attempts to meet the new Chief Minister, the Tourism Minister & others, they are being repeatedly rebuffed and kept at arms length. “The government is not willing to listen to us. They only listen and talk to a few people, the others are sidelined and kept away,” lamented one tour operator based in Moscow.

It’s not just the Russians, even the high-paying British and German tourists may not be coming back this year to their once favorite destination.

It is a known fact, that some British and German tourists have been coming – year after year to Goa – some of them for the last 15 to 25 years. But with each passing year, more and more of the once regular European and British tourists are opting for other locations like Vietnam or Spain.

Ekaterina Belyakova, head of the Russian Information Centre & general manager of a tour company, was quoted last year saying if the state government removes some bottlenecks and meets some basic demands, things could get better during the next season.

According to Belyakova in the past, Russians working as tour managers & Russian translators have been deported, though most of them had a business visa which permits them to work as translators.

She pointed out that with no Russian-speaking Goan tourist guides available, the tour operators must employ Russians as tour managers or translators to escort the visiting tourists on sightseeing trips as most tourists from Russia speak only Russian.

She said the state government should allow this facility for the convenience of Russian tourists. Russians cannot register as tourist guides with the tourism department, as only locals are allowed to register as guides.

The issue of Russians acting as tourist guides without authorization has been a major bone of contention between Russian-linked tour operators & other tourism stakeholders, with the Russians claiming they are translators or tour managers, & not guides.

Tourism department sources say that the central government has laid down rules for foreigners engaging in business activities or employment in the country & there cannot be relaxations to any country in particular. “If they (Russians) have some grievances, they can approach us with these. We will forward the grievances to the central government for consideration,” he said.

Belyakova was quoted saying last year that the new incidents involving taxi operators blocking tour buses & abusing Russian tourists have received wide coverage in the Russian media. “When a Russian tourist lands in Goa, the first question they ask our representatives is whether it is safe to be in Goa because they have read & heard that Goans don’t like Russian tourists,” she said. The situation hasn’t changed this year either.

Goa seems to be losing the preferred tourism destination among Russians and many Russians are looking for cheaper alternatives during the coming season.

“Russian tourists are backbone of the Goan tourism industry. Market trends are changing and South East Asia is becoming a more dominant and cheaper player,” Deputy General Manager (Hotels and Marketing), Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC), Gavin Dias had told PTI earlier.

Destinations like Portugal and Spain are becoming more attractive, affordable and safer for Russian tourists, and thanks to fights with locals in the northern parts of Goa, many Russians are not inclined to travel to Goa the next year.

According to a BBC report, India relies on tourism for around 7% of its economy, and yet visitor numbers have dropped sharply over the past years.

For the past few years the Indian holiday state of Goa has been building its tourism industry around the demands of Russian visitors.

Until recently they have been fun-loving and free-spending, but the falling price of oil and Western sanctions have led to a real downturn in the Russian economy, an earlier BBC report had said.

The widespread negative publicity in the Russian social media about conduct of taxi drivers towards Russians in Goa is a critical factor in the cancellation of bookings and their choice for alternate destinations like Spain and Portugal.

The image of Goa as a safe and competitive tourist destination has suffered a considerable setback  over the last few years, and it would need a substantial amount of thinking by all of us to put the industry back on track. This thinking clearly needs to be out-of-the-box, says an Indian lawyer who helps the Russian consulate in Goa.

According to the Indian Express, international charter flight services in Goa hit a 12-year-low in 2016, as a number of foreign tourists dwindled as compared to domestic travelers.

Yes, Goa has been getting more and more local travelers from States like Karnataka and Bihar, but these tourists do not add anything to the Goan Tourism industry as they normally live in the open, on beaches or gardens, buy their booze at discount wine shops and eat off hand carts or cook themselves in open spaces, littering the gardens and fields . They only tax the law enforcement system and civic amenities are used up on tourists who do not contribute anything in terms of royalties or income to the industry.

As against 895 international charter flights in 2015, Goa’s Dabolim airport witnessed only 463 flights in 2017, the lowest since 2003-04. Industry sources say that this season the numbers may fall further.

Subsequently, even the number of chartered travelers dropped by 38.75 percent, with only 98,796 foreign tourists, as against 1.61 lakh passengers, ferried by the same in the previous year.

Besides financial down-turn in eastern Europe, especially in Russia – a major supplier of chartered operators to the state, Goa missed out on joint promotion with the chartered flight operators, the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) had complained last year (2016).

According to the TTAG, operators from Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Maldives; entrants from Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, West Indies, West Africa, and Egypt also posed a stiff competition to Goa offering discounts – which increase year after year as well as better facilities and accommodation.

“The charter operators were offered incentives, facilities, marketing support by other destinations, it became cost effective both for the operators and travellers,” spokesperson for TTAG, Ralph Dsouza had told the IE.

While earlier last year, Britain’s Monarch Airlines called-off its charter flights services to Goa, bankruptcy of Russian airlines Transaero’s and its subsequent shutdown affected the state badly.

“These were major charter providers, Transaero alone brought about 35 percent of eastern European travelers,” a TTAG member complained last year.

According to the data by the Goa tourism department, until December 2015, a footfall of 5.41 lakh foreign tourists was registered by the state, which is a meager 5 percent high compared to last year. But TTAG claims that due to various unresolved issues it lost an additional 15% of its international tourist potential.

A Goa Tourism official had offered a different explanation, saying its a wrong to generalize the over all  drop in foreign tourist only in Goa. “This situation is not exclusive to the state but is observed across the country, with major reason being geo-political factors, recession, crises in Ukaraine. Yet, we have good number of Electronic Tourist Visa (ETV) arrivals of 49,645 passengers. The global phenomenon is a temporary phase which may change in months to come,” he added.

with inputs from the Indian Express, BBC and PTI

 

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