Goa ready for larger tourist flow from Russia this season

Though Goa is still considered as a place for a budget vacation, the state definitely has the potential to attract high-end tourists as well. Source: Photoshot

Though Goa is still considered as a place for a budget vacation, the state definitely has the potential to attract high-end tourists as well. Source: Photoshot

Russian tourists have been significant contributors to Goa’s tourism industry for the past several years, and with restless atmosphere in other popular destinations like Egypt and Turkey, Goa can cash in.

The new tourist season in Goa starts in a matter of days.  After being almost idle for the last six months since the monsoon is traditionally a time for domestic tourists with different interests and budgets, Goan beach shacks, bars and night clubs, numerous cloth,  jewellery and knick-knackery stalls are all perking up.

This season’s first charter flight arriving from Russia landed in Goa on October 13. Passengers got a warm welcome by the newly appointed Honorary Consul of Russia in Goa Victor Albuquerque, Dabolim Airport Director M. Suresh, Department of Tourism officials and a Goan brass band.

Such special treatment to Russian tourists is not surprising.  According to the Goa Tourism Department, the state registered a record arrival of 2,780,000 tourists in 2012-13, of which 450,000 are foreigners, that is more than a 4 percent increase compared to 2011/12. Out of 987 chartered flights that landed in Goa last year over 75 percent were from Russia.

“Russian tourists are very important for Goa. The state has developed deep love and respect for the Russian tourists. We are finding them non-interfering, they keep to themselves and are contributing to the economy of the state,” Nikhil Desai, Director of Tourism, Government of Goa and Managing Director Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) told RIR.

He adds that tourism contributes roughly up to one third of the total economy of the state. The government, thus, is trying to strengthen the industry and improve the tourist’s profile. Though Goa is still considered as a place for a budget vacation, the state definitely has the potential to attract high-end tourists as well.

Nikhil Desai believes this season the number of Russian tourists visiting Goa will increase from last years’ 170,000 to around 250,000 people. The Consul General of Russia Alexey Novikov projects the same figure.

“Compared to last year we expect 70,000 more tourists,” Novikov says. “The reason for that is, first of all, the tense in the Middle East and North Africa, especially in Egypt, a traditional holiday place for Russians. At the same time the kind-heartedness of Indian people towards Russians plays the great role.”

Ekaterina Belyakova, managing partner of Tara Lesure Travel, a tour operator based in Candolim, North Goa, confirms there will be more Russian tourists in Goa this year. “The number of bookings has already increased thrice as much only in our company,” she says.

Belyakova believes not only external factors, like unrest in Egypt, but the word of mouth work in favour of Goa. “There are things that do not depend on infrastructure or the quality of service – it is a special atmosphere of Goa which cannot be easily described,” Belyakova says. “However, if the government of the state took steps to improve the infrastructure, for example, solved the problem of garbage, the growth of number of tourists would be even more, especially as regards to VIP-level tourists. So far it’s quite difficult to compare Goa with Egypt,” she adds.

Extensive development

According to the Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Associations of India (FHRAI), 6.58 million international tourists visited India in 2012 – a million more than in 2010. By comparison, last year more than 57 million international tourists visited China, 35 million went to Turkey and 25 million to Malaysia. 

The 12th five year Plan (period 2012-17), introduced by Indian Ministry of Tourism in 2012, set up 12.38 percent annual growth target during 2011-2016 given that the current rate of growth in tourism sector is not more than 9 percent. The plan targets 11.24 million foreign tourist arrivals by 2016, almost double from today’s figure. The federal budget for implementing the new Plan saw a three-fold increase, up to  $2.6 billion from the previous $836 million.

“There are multiple policies we are taking up for development of tourism in Goa. We are going to implement Tourism Master Plan for Goa for next 25 years in which we are going to identify the areas of focus, for example, Eco-tourism, Wellness Tourism, MICE Tourism, Heli Tourism, and to create a necessary infrastructure,” Nikhil Desai says. “We are also putting in place a system of integrated beach cleaning because the current system is not adequate to cope with increasing numbers of tourists. The idea is to have one of the cleanest and most well-maintained beaches in the world.”

Considering that Goa is becoming more and more popular among married couples and families with children, security is another issue to be addressed. The case of 9-year old Russian girl, who was allegedly raped by two Indian tourists in Arambol beach, North Goa, in 2010 shocked the state. The overall increasing number of reports of sexual crimes against women and children all over India elevated the security concerns among Russians planning their holiday in Goa.

The Tourism Department is planning to resolve the issue by reinforcing the system of beach safety. “Lifeguards will be patrolling the beaches from early morning and till midnight,” Desai says. “We will be commencing night patrolling too, especially from the point of view of safety of lady tourists. We will also create swimming zones within all the beaches to avoid conflicts with water sports operators.”

He adds that in order to increase security on the beaches the government made the installation of CCTV surveillance compulsory for all the beach shacks.

Roman Rybakov, media director at TEZ TOUR Moscow, one of the largest tour operators in Russia, believes India is a promising destination, however its potential is not being used fully due to slow tourism infrastructure development. TEZ TOUR is not dealing with India tour packages currently, preferring to work with Thailand, Maldives, Sri Lanka and the UAE.

“In India, in Goa particularly, the number of high quality hotels is very little,” Rybakov says. “And the tourists’ security and safety questions are still uncertain.”

The Indian government has recently allowed “visa on arrival” to the citizens of 11 countries promising to extend the facility for 40 other countries, including Russia and Ukraine. The talks about easing visa norms for Russians have been going for past couple of years but practically things aren’t moving.  

Ekaterina Belyakova says if visa on arrival becomes available for Russians, the capacity of existing charter flights won’t be sufficient to handle the number of people willing to come to Goa as Russians are known for making up holiday plans at the last moment. Currently the bondage of visa turns their choice towards Thailand and other countries where visa in advance is not required.  

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