More domestic visitors in Goa as int'l tourism plummets

As international tourism plummets, domestic tourists keep Goa afloat amid Omicron fears

At its peak before the pandemic, nearly eight million tourists visited Goa annually

Representative image. Credit: PTI Photo

Even as the tourism industry in Goa crosses its fingers over the increasing footprint of Omicron, both in India and the source market, Europe, industry stakeholders have demanded a more relaxed tax regime as well as streamlining of GST and tax structures for travel agents and tour operators.

According to Savio Messias, former president of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, the state's oldest industry body, "while the foreign tourists' footfalls could plummet due to the increasing number of Covid cases in Europe, domestic footfalls, for now, we're seeing the trade through in the run-up to New Year."

"But the rise in Omicron cases and a crackdown on movement in metros could soon put paid to the surge in domestic tourism in the state," he added.

"The domestic season has been excellent. (But) now we have to see. Three to five per cent cancellations are coming in these days. Nobody knows what is going to be the position in the next few months," Messias said.

"The Maharashtra government has declared night curfew, they may introduce day curfew too. Delhi has also come out with strong measures. Our source market is Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad," Messias said.

At its peak before the pandemic, nearly eight million tourists visited the state annually, but the arrival of the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions on travel and Covid-related protocol have led to tourist footfalls taking a hit.

The slackening in Covid cases across the country as well as quick vaccination of the eligible population in the country had led to a surge in tourist arrival numbers to Goa over the last three months.

Messias also said that the foreign tourist season, which traditionally lasts from October to March, had flattered to deceive tourism industry stakeholders this year, due to the uncertainty surrounding government policy related to Covid.

"Initially we were happy that the charters were starting, but it does not look promising. The situation looks fluid. Nobody knows when the government will introduce stronger SOPs. We do not know when flights will be cancelled. As it is, ahead of New Year lots of international flights were cancelled. So it does not look very exciting. We have to wait and watch and hope that the fourth wave does not affect the business," he said.

In November, Goa did witness the first few charter tourist flights from Kazakhstan, but that too Messias said, had petered out. And expecting tourists to fly from Russia, which has been severely hit by the fourth Covid wave, was out of the question.

"Situation is bad in Europe. We do not know what's going to happen in India. The only charters are coming from Kazakhstan, but we do not know what is going to be the situation in Kazakhstan in a few days time. So it is very very fluid. We just have to keep our fingers crossed and hope that things improve," he said.

"Russia is out of the question now, because Russia is very badly hit by the pandemic and other countries also. The British bookings were very encouraging in the beginning. In fact they were thinking of five flights in a week. They had already confirmed two. But now they have had to cancel their flights," he said.

Traditionally, Russia and the UK account for the highest component of foreign tourists to the coastal state.

"Sixty to seventy flights were coming in international flights in a week (pre-pandemic). Whereas now, we have only one or two a week," he said.

Meanwhile, travel and tourism industry stakeholders also met Union Minister for Tourism and Culture G. Kishen Reddy here, along with Union Minister of State for Tourism Shripad Naik seeking sops for the industry.

"We have asked for less restriction from the Excise and police departments for the tourism industry during elections as well as simplification of Goods and Services Tax and tax collection at source for travel agents and tour operators," current president of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa Nilesh Shah said.

"We have also sought extension of free visas beyond five lakh international passengers as well as smoothing of procedure for random Covid testing at the Goa airport for international passengers," he also said.

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