By Sanjay Borkar
Panaji, Oct 16 (IANS): Facing uncertainty over charter flights coming to Goa due to the Russia-Ukraine war and visa issues, the tourism sector in Goa has focused on domestic tourists, with the hope of a revival.
As the coastal state's tourism sector is predominantly dependent on the United Kingdom and Russia, and some parts of Europe, Goa is facing difficulties this season to woo them due to the war in Europe and visa related issue with the UK.
In 2019, about 71,27,000 domestic tourists arrived in Goa, while 9,31,000 were foreign tourists. But this number dropped in 2020 and 2021 as the Covid pandemic struck the coastal state. This number came down further to a mere 3 lakh domestic tourists and 32,000 foreign tourists.
Around 80,000 to 90,000 people from Russia come to Goa for holidaying every year, while around 50,000 people from UK also prefer Goa.
Now when the Covid pandemic is subsiding and the state had hopes that high spending foreign tourists will arrive in Goa, the war between Russia and Ukraine has dashed the hope.
Sources at Goa airport informed that some flights from Russia were cancelled which were scheduled for October. "Yes, some flights from Russia are cancelled. However we have hopes that from November things will improve," an officer said on condition of anonymity.
Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) president Nilesh Shah told IANS that because of the war between Russia and Ukraine bookings have come down and cancellations have also happened.
"However people from Russia are willing to come Goa. From November three charter flights (per week) will arrive in Goa," Shah said.
"We have got feedback that they (Russians) are willing to come to Goa, though there are restrictions in their country," he said.
Speaking about UK tourists, Shah said that if the visa issue gets resolved as assured by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant then it will be good for the tourism industry.
"From November one flight from UK will arrive in Goa every week. If the UK visa issue is resolved then the flights will increase from 1 to 5. They may increase even more," Shah said.
"The last two years have been bad, compared to that this is a good start. We are hopeful that things will improve. But our focus will be on domestic tourists as they will come to Goa," he added.
He said that if the visa issue gets resolved then the number of tourists from the UK will go up from December and January.
According to Goa Forward president and MLA Vijai Sardesai earlier 35 to 40 per cent tourists from Russia used to arrive in Goa every year. But now due to the Russia and Ukraine war these tourists will not come. "Hence now we need to fill this space from England," he said.
Sardesai claimed that the state will face a loss of Rs 500 crore if tourists from the United Kingdom don't arrive on account of hindrances in getting a visa.
Sardesai had said earlier that Goa is facing cancellation of 7 to 8 bookings per day in small and medium hotels, due to the new visa restriction by the Ministry of External Affairs, where British tourists have to seek a visa from nine centres (Visa Processing) in England.
"This (lifting restriction) is important because in Goa annually minimum 40,000 to 50,000 tourists arrive from the UK. As per statistics of pre pandemic period each tourist spends around Rs 98,000, which means around a Rs 500 crore turnover takes place from this area," Sardesai had said.
Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant on Thursday said that the Union Home Ministry has given an assurance to resolve the issue of the United Kingdom visas as soon as possible.
"I have discussed UK visa issue with Home Minister Amit Shah. It will be sorted out soon. There were some foreign ministry related issues, hence it was getting delayed. But he has assured to resolve it as soon as possible," Sawant said.
Tourism Minister Rohan Khaunte had also said during the last assembly session that Goa is predominately dependent on two markets, UK and Russia, and some parts of Europe.
"Today predominately we are dependent on two markets, UK and Russia, and some parts of Europe. Are we on the right track? Are we looking at the same tourists coming in? How do we look at domestic tourists coming in? For this we need to see how we go ahead," Khaunte had said.