Herald: Refunding visa fees may not be the solution

Refunding visa fees may not be the solution

14 Feb 2019 07:03am IST
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14 Feb 2019 07:03am IST

A high level meeting of tourism stakeholders with the government that met to discuss the drop in foreign tourist arrivals zeroed in on the reason for this and also came up with a suggestion. The reason is the high visa prices, the solution is a refund, even partial, of the visa prices to tourists who stay at registered hotels. 

Seems a rather simple solution, but did the participants at the high level meeting pause to consider the quality of tourists that will be attracted by a refund of the visa fees? This will not bring quality tourists or the high spenders. It will bring the budget tourists to the State. Is this the kind of tourism we are promoting? If the State is serious about revamping tourism and is looking at getting to Goa quality tourists who will spend, then a refund of visa fees is not the answer to the current troubles that the industry is experiencing. 

The visa fees are decided by the Union Government and are the same for a tourist holidaying anywhere in the country. Has Goa Tourism statistics to substantiate that the visa fees have led to a decline of tourists in other States too? Or is this peculiar to Goa? A month ago Herald had reported of tourists blaming ‘stringent visa rules’ for giving Goa a miss. Fees had not been mentioned by the tourists. 

The high level meeting appears to have missed discussing some crucial points that need to be tackled to give tourism in Goa a new lease of life. Perhaps talking to tourists may have given the stakeholders are better idea of what the tourists want.

A few weeks ago a video was being forwarded on social media that showed a foreign tourist seated at a shack and speaking on why she was disappointed with Goa. The tourist, a lady, said she had been coming to Goa for several years but this may be the last time she has made the trip. The reason was the lack of facilities. She said there were no facilities for garbage, no toilet facilities. Even as she was saying this and having her breakfast, there were government authorities measuring the shack, another issue that irked her. Her question was: Why come here, when there was Thailand, Indonesia which were easier to get to, with no hassle from the police, “I come to relax, and this is certainly not relaxing,” the tourist said. Yes, she did refer to the cost of the visa, and said, “For that amount of money we expect facilities.”

This may be one tourist speaking, but what she says resonates, as what the tourists holidaying in Goa expect is facilities. They don’t mind paying high visa fees, as long as they get a relaxing holiday, as long as the beaches are clean, as long as they are not disturbed by hawkers on the beach, as long as they are not charged exorbitantly by taxi drivers, as long as they feel safe when on the beach or walking on the streets of Goa. If these basic facilities and securities are in place, then tourists will come, even if the visa fees are high. The aim has to be in attracting the high spenders, so they have to be offered a service in return for their spending. That is where Goa fails.

Ironically, these are not new issues plaguing the tourism industry in Goa. They are decades old and there has been no solution found for them. If Goa is earning from the tourists holidaying in the State, then certain facilities have to be offered in return. The visa fees are not much higher than what Indians pay to travel abroad. Refunding them does not appear to be the solution for Goa Tourism. 

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