JAN 25, 2015: The Tourism Economy in Goa is likely to be really hard hit in 2015, as foreign tourist arrivals in January and February 2015 as well as during the monsoon season will decline to almost zero. Several tourist operators in Europe, UK and Russia said that not a single new tourist has booked during January and they do not expect any further bookings during February either.
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.
Ekaterina Belyakova, head of the Russian Information Centre & general manager of a tour company, says that 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, six 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 minister Dilip Parulekar said 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 said 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.
Vikram Verma, legal counsel for the Russian consulate in Goa, said Russians are unnecessarily getting caught in the crossfire in turf fights between different groups of taxi operators. Jolina Kokhta representing a travel company said they have decided to blacklist a few resorts where the taxi operators are regularly creating problems.