Herald: Charter flights hit turbulence

Charter flights hit turbulence

17 Feb 2019 05:17am IST
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17 Feb 2019 05:17am IST
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The number of charter flights have reduced dramatically and if market feedback is anything to go by, then it will stop altogether in the near future, this trend raises serious questions about the future of an industry which is number one in terms of revenue generation for the state. Vibha Verma spoke to operators in the business to gain an insight

he State’s economy over the past few decades have been banking on two sectors – Mining and Tourism, which has propelled the development in the coastal State. The fiscals after 2012-13 saw the state pressing the panic button after the mining industry ran into crisis due to various reasons.

But despite that, the Tourism industry was considered a hen that lays golden eggs. The Tourism Industry was considered as a hope to get the economy of the State going.

The dip in mining revenue did show up some reflections in the State’s GDP, but the tourism sector did not slow down. The tourism sector, on the other hand, took up a major burden of running the finances of the State. It was number one in terms of generating avenue in the State. 

The data received from Tourism Department and stakeholders clearly indicates the situation in this sector remained rosy till the tourism season 2013-14. The season saw a rise in the number of chartered flights arriving in the State thus resulting in a jump in the arrivals. Total 1128 Chartered Flights landed in Goa giving a flip to the Tourism Industry, resulting in good revenue generation.

However, the joy of the industry could not sustain for long. The years after that were marked with disappointments; drop in arrivals and the tourism industry facing some of the most unprecedented challenges.

The industry players and stakeholders who were dependent on it were in a lurch. The fears are now being raised as to whether the tourism industry is also walking the way mining went. 

The season fuelled by Chartered Flights has been gradually losing its charm and the blame goes to a number of factors right from massive hike in deposit amount from charter companies that fly passengers from different countries to this resort State. 

The Britishers and Russians were amongst the highest number of arrivals in Goa, mostly those through Charters. Conventionally, the UK arrivals were high, but eventually Russians has been dominating the scene, with the travelers from Moscow thronging to the beaches.

Way back in the tourist season 2014-15, the weak ruble led to a drop in Russian people moving out of their country and that led to drop in tourism across several international destinations including Goa.

The following season saw the State travel companies complaining that arrivals declined with Airport Authority of India (AAI) raising the deposit amount that it collects from charter companies. 

This hike in the fees collected by AAI from Chartered Flight Operators has been considered as one of the reasons why the response dwindled.  Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) has attributed the poor arrivals to higher airport charges, as one of many reasons for decline in charter season.

TTAG President Savio Messias has been focusing on this aspect through various forums. “It has been many years the TTAG is demanding incentives like visa refund, brochure attribution, etc for charter operators but there is no positive response from the authorities or the government,” he lamented. “This is one main reason why there is a drop-in charter flights.”

Messias said the Chartered Companies are being wooed by other destinations providing better options and incentives. “There has to be commitment from the side of our government that we will not let these Charters to go away from us.  Many airline companies have dropped Goa from their list of destinations which has naturally resulted in the slowdown of international tourism,” he said urging the government to take immediate steps to regain Goa’s glory in tourism sector. 

Goa has already seen a massive drop in charter flight arrivals since October 2018, compared to the previous two seasons. Adding to the woes, Russian and British visitors, in general, who were Goa’s thronged the state in numbers, have also reduced. The tourism industry stakeholders claim there is a whopping 15 percent decline in tourist arrivals from both these countries compared to the previous years, indicating that the international arrivals will dip further in the years to come.

The data speaks loudly. Figures with Herald show that 55 charter flights landed at Dabolim international airport in October 2018 while the following month saw 232 charters whereas in the previous year, the landings were 105 and 318 in October and November 2017 respectively. 

The biggest worry that tourism industry faced was when December 2018 failed to enthuse the travelers. The month of December that creates a lot of excitement among the tourists to participate in the night long beach parties, also faced a set back with State receiving only 293 flights compared to 357 in the previous December month, a drop by 64 flights. 

The overall scenario has come as a warning for the stakeholders including charter operators who now fear that the tourism industry will hit the lowest ebb.

Joao Xavier 'Bush' Miranda of Cicerone Air Transport Pvt Ltd that handles the logistics for the Nordwind charters in Goa has echoed TTAG’s worry while foreseeing a bleak future for Goa’s tourism industry.

“The flow of charter flights has seen a decline in the last couple of years. The new airport policy has resulted in a doom. What Airport Authorities want is to squeeze money from chartered flight operators without providing them the necessary support,” he alleged.

Pointing out to the 30 percent drop in charter arrivals from Russia, he claimed that from next year onwards Finnair flights that bring in Finnish and Scandinavian tourists will stop its operations to Goa. “Tourism in Goa is reeling under threat if steps are not taken to revive it by inducing required measures,” he commented. 

The significant developments on the chartered front have begun showing the signs of Goa being dropped from the list of preferred destinations. Aurinkomatkat, the largest tour operator in Finland has already cancelled its flights to Goa. Messias said that from two flights a week, the company had been sending one flight last year which came down to zero this time.  

Melroy D’Costa of JetConcept firm, which handles Royal Flights, has the same story to share. For the very first time, he said that flights from Russian will fly till April unlike the past seasons when Russian flights flew till the end of the tourist season in May.

“April second week will be the last for Russian chartered flights. Till last year, it was May. The total flights have drastically reduced from two per day to one per day,” he said disclosing list of negatives responsible for the crisis.

“Goa turning out to be more expensive (than other states and many countries), poor airport infrastructure and slow service of e-visa, restrictions on operations and garbage are some causes for poor charter season,” he said. 

D’Costa alleged that Dabolim airport has been giving preference to domestic and scheduled international flights by sidelining chartered flights. “This is discouraging to many charter operators to fly international tourists to Goa. The airport also lacks basic facilities like toilets, medical service, etc. The airport terminal is also congested,” he added.

With airport charges one of the highest and Goa already facing the heat, new destinations like Egypt, Turkey, Thailand, Combodia and Vietnam have emerged strong competition with charter companies given incentives.

“Goa is the opposite. Here the charter companies have to also pay penalty for cancellation of slots,” D’Costa lamented apprehended that if the trend continues, the future is not good for Goa in tourism industry. 

Messias went on to add that while there are no arrivals from Germany where ironically Goa annually participates in trade marts, Holland charter operators that had one flights per week till three years ago have already cancelled all flights to Goa. “It’s a big blow to Goa market,” he commented. 

“Goa is losing countries one after the other,” another charter operator linked with getting tourists from Finland said. 

There is however a different version from Martin Joseph, the chief of Freedom Holidays Pvt Ltd who said that the arrivals of UK tourists are steady. “Thomas Cook airlines are flying every day and Tui Airways thrice a week. As far as we are concerned, the flights are full,” he said.  

The other stakeholders have also expressed serious concern on the current state of tourism with a leading hotelier apprehending that luxury hotels will have to further drop their room tariffs. “The tariffs were slashed by a few percent during the peak season and still the occupancy was not satisfactory. There was hardly any inquiry too,” said the proprietor of the resort, popular among high-end international tourists in South. 

While Mining shows no sign of resumption and tourism gradually hitting the low, the State needs to worry on its revenue collection and job creating front. 

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