Herald: Drop in number and quality of tourists hits Goa’s economy

Drop in number and quality of tourists hits Goa’s economy

02 Jun 2019 05:23am IST

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02 Jun 2019 05:23am IST

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Goa welcomed an average 4.20 lakh charter tourists in the just-concluded tourist season compared to 4.64 lakh arrivals in the preceding 2017-18 year, representing an overall decline by nearly 45,000. Although the total number may not be significant, particularly for the tourism department that often depicts a different scenario; the trend has worried the stakeholders. Even as Goa caters to quite a large section of domestic tourists with North Indians considered big spenders, the State unfortunately still depends on foreigners who are largely backpackers. Now since the dependence on international tourists is high, VIBHA VERMA reflects on the correct picture of the foreign arrivals

Since the beginning of the season in October 2018, various factors ‑ repeatedly talked about – have been instrumental in affecting the inflow to the once very popular international tourist hub – Goa.

In the recent past, Goa has been facing tough competition from various countries which are not only economical but also offer lucrative deals such as free visa, affordable accommodation, etc. The coastal State on the other hand does not provide a budget dream vacation anymore.

The State, which boasts of creating infrastructure and introducing adventure activities to boost foreign tourist inflow, is slowly losing on to holidayers and encouraging low-spenders. The annual figures for the 2017-18 tourist season was 4,64,198 charter tourists that dropped to 4,20,503 during the 2018-19 tourist season. This also indicates that the number of charter flights too plunged from 1,984 to 1,599 in the respective years, a drop by 385 flights.

Just like the past two seasons, the beach shacks wore a deserted look; the beaches were full of low-spenders and drive-in domestic tourists whose contribution is almost nothing to the State exchequer while the tourist accommodation sector too did not see any growth. In fact, several starred hotels did not record 100 per cent occupancy which led them to slash their tariffs. “We reduced the tariffs levied during the peak time. We charged Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 less per room this time. The room facing sea view remained unchanged, which otherwise increases in November-December-January,” said a chief manager of a 5-start resort in Salcete on the condition of anonymity.

Similarly, several hotels in the northern coastal belt too witnessed same scenario. Domnick D’Souza, co-owner of a popular tourist accommodation facility in Siolim, also lamented poor booking this season. “The booking was only about 70 per cent. There were fewer inquiries too,” he said.

In a bid to salvage its reputation as a top tourist destination, many luxury hotels cut down room rates with some properties offering discounts of more than 50 per cent in December 2018, which is when Goa otherwise records its  highest inflow. One such hotel in the South Goa, known among high profile personalities, was offering rooms ranging between Rs 42,000 to Rs 50,000 per day; which would earlier not have been less than Rs 1 lakh. Likewise, another 5-star hotel had reduced per day/night room charges to Rs 33,000 compared to Rs 80,000-Rs 1.25 lakh in November-December 2017.

Absence of tourism policy and master plan has further dampened the tourism spirit. Of many factors affecting the growth of tourism industry, Herald has picked a few important ones.

 No tourism policy

The root cause of the problem is absence of tourism policy and tourism master plan. In a recent media statement Deputy Chief Minister and Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar stated that the work of Tourism Master Plan and Tourism Policy was in final stage and would be notified soon. “I am working hard for making Goa world’s number one tourist destination and my vision is to promote Goa with its Goenkarponn identity,” he said. 

But the fact remains that successive tourism ministers have failed to prioritise finalising the important policy that would enable a profitable business to traders and all stakeholders and also increase the inflow of quality tourists to Goa.

In addition to setting up marinas and golf courses notwithstanding opposition from the environmentalists and locals; the draft policy among other proposals suggested redeveloping the assets of state-run Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) through the private sector and disengaging it from commercial activities. 

While the extreme delay has worried the stakeholders, Centre for Responsible Tourism, Diocesan Council for Social Justice and Peace (DCSJP) and environmentalists had last November demanded the draft plan be released in Konkani language to reach out to a wider population in the State. 

“The government did not respond to our letters. Which government listens to the people? There are lobbies operating… The draft is almost notified. Calling for views from the stakeholders is an eye-wash,” a member of these associations who had placed their demand before the government, said. 

Cruz Cardozo, President of the Shack Owners Association joins the other stakeholders stating that authorities should not side line the main traders. 

Expensive destination

A survey by TravelMag.com in the year 2016 had rated Goa’s capital Panjim as the most expensive destination in the country while Calangute – the most frequented place among tourists ‑ was rated sixth. While Kerala is always a major competitor for Goa, destinations like Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia, etc have joined the league. From accommodation (although some hotels claim to have reduced their charges) to food, traveling fares, etc, have seen a surge in charges.

Besides, Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) states that due to the increased fees on e-visas on arrivals and increased taxation on the hotel industry, the State has become less competitive against upcoming destinations such as Egypt, Thailand, Phuket, and Sri Lanka.

“We had put up a proposal before the government to relax the visa charges at least on certain popular destinations but there is no response from the other side till date. Goa is losing out to countries that offer free visas. We should also take into consideration that countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and few others do not charge visa fees to Indians,” TTAG President Savio Messias suggested.

Melroy D’Costa of JetConcept firm, which handles Russian charters, said they have been receiving negative feedback from its clients. “One of our clients had landed in Goa after spending a vacation in Sri Lanka, and his reaction about Goa’s expenses was shocking. Sri Lanka’s offers were half the price than the facilities and purchases in Goa. There are many other countries like Dubai, Turkey, etc, providing better and affordable facilities. It will be very challenging for Goa to retain tourism if things are not streamlined,” he said. 

Incentives for charters

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.

Thereafter the State travel companies complained that arrivals declined owing to Airport Authority of India (AAI) raising the deposit amount from charter companies. This hike in fees collected by AAI from Chartered Flight Operators is still considered as one of the reasons why the response dwindled. Here too, TTAG proposed reduction of deposit amount, yet another suggestion which is not heeded to. Messias said for 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 and the Chartered Companies are wooed by other destinations providing better options and incentives.

It has also come to the fore that with effect from April 1, 2019, the landing charges have also increased with stakeholders fearing it would impact the tickets and in turn further affect the inflow of tourists to Goa. Each charter also pays passenger service tax, user development fees and other taxes. “Each charter pays a minimum Rs 1 lakh to the Navy and the AAI,” said one of them. 

Aviation fuel

Former Chief Minister (late) Manohar Parrikar-led cabinet in 2014 reduced the Value Added Tax on the Air Turbine Fuel from 22 per cent to mere 12.5 per cent in a bid to arrest the slump in arrivals. The incentives to all airlines refuelling themselves in the beach destination were to increase aircraft movement which would also increase tourists to Goa. Thereafter, the TTAG proposed to further reduce the ATF pricing from 12.5 per cent to 3 per cent, a proposal pending for consideration.

Election fever

The dry days and alcohol restriction during the model code of conduct hit the business. This also included ban on music at open air premises after 10 pm from the day when the election code came into force on March 10.

While the TTAG complained that many hotels faced cancellation of bookings, the Shack Owners Welfare Society lamented that shack business was winding up early than actual end of the season. Following representations from different traders including hoteliers and bar owners, the tourism department moved the Election Commission of India through the Chief Electoral Office in Goa seeking to relax the time on bars serving and selling alcohol beyond 11 pm. 

The pan-India election in addition to by-polls in four assembly constituencies also affected the festive celebration to a certain extent, although election office granted relaxation on case-to-case basis. 

Almost 400 charters drop out

Almost 400 chartered flights that arrived in Goa during last tourist season have opted to drop the coastal destination from its list, sending the tourism sector to further lows. 

The data available indicates scary picture on chartered tourism front, with only 1,599 charters arriving in the State during the ongoing season against 1,984 for the comparative period last year. This indicates that Goa’s image as an international tourist destination has been taking a major beating.

Ernest Dias, Chief Operating Officer at SITA Travels, said that the entire international arrivals, mostly Russians, have gone down by 50 per cent due to various factors like Goa becoming expensive compared to other destinations. “Also the Western travellers prefer to visit places like Egypt, Turkey, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia which are cheaper and tourist place providing better facilities like free visa,” he said.

Milroy Costa of JetConcept firm said that the number of passengers required to fly chartered flight economically is not enough due to which there is large-scale drop. He said that the chartered flight season is curtailing in a big way.

Costa himself had his last chartered flight on April 6 from Russia. “We recorded a 35 per cent drop this season,” he said claiming that garbage, GST and various factors have attributed to the negative impact.  

The stakeholders have suggested that the government need to sit with them to understand their problems so that the new season does not face a disaster like the present.

Ban on public drinking, cooking & littering 

While it is a big challenge to curb low-end and nuisance making tourists to Goa, the State Assembly in January 2019 passed a bill amending a tourism law which made drinking alcohol, cooking and littering in tourist places a criminal offence.

With assent from the Governor followed by notification of the Goa Tourism Places (Protection and Maintenance) (Amendment) Act 2019, violators are fined Rs 2,000, and if it is committed by more than one person, the group is slapped Rs 10,000 penalty.

A couple of cases were booked in Calangute but the habitual nuisance makers continue to take the State law for granted. Factors like failure to implement it properly and absence of a dedicated force is defeating the purpose.

The beaches saw drive-in tourists using the open space to spend their nights. With thousands of non-Goa registered vehicles entering the State carrying hoards of people, the State has gained nothing worth. “These tourists park their vehicles anywhere by the road side and begin cooking; they litter the place and go back to their home State. This has been going on for the last couple of years. Although the law came into force this year, barely any case is booked,” a local vendor at Calangute Mariano Da Costa said. 

Shack Owners Welfare Society President Cruz Cardozo conceded that many such domestic tourists would sleep on the beaches. “They made beaches their accommodation to spend their nights. There is no income we earn through these tourists,” he apprehended.

As per his calculation, 60 per cent domestic tourists are low spenders while 20 per cent are medium spenders and another 20 per cent are lavish spenders.

Herald tried to contact the tourism department for an official comment but in vain.
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