Cheer in Goa tourism industry as plea to allow foreign tourists granted
The tourism industry in Goa has welcomed the decision to lift the ban on tourist visas thanking the Union government for heeding their demand for an early relaxation to coincide with Goa’s upcoming tourism seasons.
With the timely relaxation, the first charter flights with tourists will arrive by mid-November providing relief to Goa’s tourism-related businesses, stakeholders from the state tourism industry said.
“It was largely due to our requests that the Central government decided to allow foreigners to arrive in Goa. Goa makes up 92% of the charter flight arrivals in the country and the announcement ahead of the season will allow us to plan in advance and allow charter companies to book slots at the Goa airport,” president of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG), a body which represents businessmen from the tourism industry, Nilesh Shah said.
Repeated requests, letters and meetings between the industry, the state government and the Union government helped speed up the process and ensure that the announcement was made to coincide with the start of Goa’s tourism.
Besides repeated letters, Goa’s tourism secretary J Ashok Kumar held a meeting with officials of the central government - the most recent meeting being earlier this week - in which the modalities of allowing charter planes to land as early as October 15 were worked out.
The TTAG has been consistently seeking the restart of foreign tourist arrivals which they say is the bread and butter of small and medium hotels, most of whom are yet to reopen ever since March 2020 when the lockdown was introduced.
Unsurprisingly, the decision was greeted with cheer in Goa’s tourism industry.
“The decision will benefit every tourism stakeholder - from the charter operator to small and medium hotel owner and everyone in between. We are grateful for this,” the TTAG’s Shah said.
Being a tourist-centric state, Goa’s tourism industry sought special dispensation going so far as to request that even if regular international flights were not going to be resumed, tourists should be brought in via chartered planes through reciprocal bubble agreements with countries that were already accepting tourists from India.
“As Goa is one of the leading states for tourism, we propose charter flights be allowed to land in Goa especially from safe destinations that have allowed Indians to travel to their countries on a tourist visa. International flights are already operating in between two countries like Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. So we should reciprocate the same way. As tourists arriving in Goa don’t travel to any other state and majority of them spend their time at their respective hotels so it becomes easy to control and monitor them,” the TTAG said in a representation to the Union Home Ministry in September this year.
According to the association, tourism is one of the most adversely affected sectors for the Covid-19 pandemic. The tourism sector employs over 40 million skilled and trained manpower and generates approximately US $29 billion foreign exchange per annum.
“With the full closure of international flights and visas since March 2020, many operators and stakeholders have shut shop and are facing severe financial constraints,” the TTAG had said.
In 2020 too, the TTAG sought the reopening of the sector in a limited way; no sooner did cases begin to plateau towards the end of October. While tourists from within India flocked to Goa in hundreds, foreign tourists were conspicuous by their absence.
In 2020 too, the TTAG sought the reopening of the sector in a limited way when cases began to plateau towards the end of October. While tourists from within India flocked to Goa in hundreds, foreign tourists were conspicuous by their absence.
Goa’s tourism season usually begins with the receding monsoon and as winter sets in across the northern hemisphere, those seeking to escape the often biting cold climate choose to spend time in warmer parts of the world and Goa is among the preferred destinations for those seeking to travel.
For many who had made a winter visit to Goa an annual affair, not being able to travel to Goa and having to spend Christmas back in the UK was something they “never experienced before.”
The UK, Germany, Poland, Russia and Ukraine are the primary sources of foreign tourists to Goa. Visas weren’t relaxed last year as much of Europe was battling an especially severe second wave at the time.
The Prime Minister first dropped hints that the Union government was willing to relax its suspension of tourist visas during an interaction with health workers from Goa after the state became the second one after Uttarakhand to complete vaccinating its targeted population with at least one dose of the vaccine.
“India’s vaccination drive is not (only) a cover for health, but a cover for livelihood too. It is important that tourism destinations open as soon as possible (like) the Char Dham yatra in Uttarakhand. Goa’s 100 percent vaccination has become important to revive the tourism sector,” Modi said.
“You imagine, hotel industry people, taxi drivers, hawkers, shopkeepers... Once everyone is vaccinated, tourists can come to Goa with peace of mind. Politics aside, Goa is a part of a select group of tourist destinations where people are vaccinated,” he said.
“Tourism can resume in the coming tourism season just like before. Domestic and international tourists can take pleasure in coming here. This will be possible when we give as much importance to corona precautions as much as we have given to vaccinations. It is our duty,” he said, adding that he was apprised of Goa Tourism’s requests to allow foreigners to set foot in the sunny state once more and that a decision was in the offing.
“The Central government is taking steps to welcome foreign tourists back. The government has decided to give the first 5-lakh tourists free visas,” he added.
The industry in Goa is hopeful that demand will remain high after a gap of one and a half years. “Our charter partners have reported that inquiries have already begun and we can expect a strong start to the season.
“Foreign tourists travel in larger groups and stay for a longer time, often the average duration of stay is between 21-28 days. To compensate for the loss of a single foreign booking, a hotel will have to secure four to five different bookings of domestic tourists to maintain the same level of occupancy,” Nilesh Shah, the president of the TTAG, told HT.
A domestic tourist on average stays on average between 3-7 days.
Prior to the pandemic, the state witnessed close to 90-lakh tourists including around 9 lakh foreigners.
Goa Tourism Development Corporation had conducted a state-wide survey through a consultant to understand the impact of Covid-19 on Goa’s tourism industry. As per the survey, the overall loss of earnings in the tourism industry during the lockdown has been estimated at ₹2,062 crores. Potential loss of earning for the 2020-21 season has been pegged at ₹7,239 crores and the potential job cuts were to the tune of 1.22 lakh (58%).
Goa’s tourism sector is a big source of revenue for the state with the industry directly contributing 16.43% towards the state Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and also provides employment to nearly 35% of the state’s population that is dependent on the sector, according to official estimates.