IndiaNewsNetwork.IN Bureau | 1st Sept 2015: According to information obtained from various travel agencies operating in Russia and neighboring countries, including inputs from charter flight operators, at least 20,000 Russians have cancelled their bookings and plans of coming to Goa at the last minute this season, as charter operators suddenly hiked the air fare charges to and fro. The hike by Russian Charter flight operators is due to the Airport Authority of India (AAI) hiking the deposit amount it collects from charter companies.
Till last winter the authority charged Rs two lakh security deposit per slot for the entire season but it changed the deposit structure and now it is based on number of flight movements planned in season. Charter companies have to pay a minimum of Rs 25 lakh for upto 25 movements and a Rs one crore for more than 75 movements.
Further for every cancellation or non utilization of slot company has to pay a penalty of Rs one lakh adjustable against the deposit. This hike has been passed on by the charter operators to the Russian tourists who reacted by cancelling their bookings as they are already burdened by the weak rouble. Besides, other locations offer much cheaper rates and are cleaner than Goa.
“We have received the request from charter companies and we are discussing the issue with them,” said Goa airport director K S Rao.
Romanaov Serko, a tourist operator from Moscow, says the Government of India is not actually keen on promoting tourism in Goa. Other countries are offering huge discounts and incentives to charter operators who bring in flights to their country. But the Goa Government and the Govt. of India is only increasing charges, dues and levies every here, while the overall experience has gone down considerably. “Goa is not what it was 10 years ago in terms of overall tourist experience, but the costs of flying to Goa and staying in Goa have gone up almost 20 times over the last ten years. Why should a tourist come to Goa when several other cheaper and better options are available in other places, ” asks Serko.
Goans Businesses should not expect any more Russians this year than last year
About 25 % further fall in Russian tourists expected this year, as Charter Flights become costlier by 10 to 15 per cent
According to a survey conducted by Goa news website IndyaWire.com, almost 42 per cent of Russians who have visited the State of Goa in the past 3-4 years, do not want to come to Goa again. Further the Government of India and the Airports Authority of India has increased parking charges, deposits and the like for charter aircraft, hiking the overall cost of flying to Goa for tourists by about 12 to 15 per cent. The charter operators have passed on the burden to the individual tourist, increasing the burden further.
After putting together over a thousand responses from various Russians who had visited Goa in the past, the article reads:
They (Goans) do not want us in Goa, We are not welcome in Goa anymore, I don’t want to go to Goa again, I love Goa, but Goa does not love me – These are some of the several responses we got from former Russian tourists who had visited Goa over the last 3-4 years. IndyaWire.com conducted a social media survey on Facebook, VK (VKontakte) and other social media sites over the last two weeks.
Doublespeak and negative utterances by Goan politicians, unfriendly taxi and tourist taxi operators, uncooperative Goa police, robberies, language barrier, non-availability of trained Russian guides or Russian-speaking guides, increasing cost of hotel, accommodation rentals in Goa, over-crowded beaches, lecherous male tourists from other parts of India, lack of privacy for women, very expensive beach-side restaurants, are the reasons why 42 per cent of Russian tourists who visited Goa at least once over the last 3-4 years do not want to come back. To add to this, charter flights have become more expensive, thanks to the Govt of India’s decision to hike the security deposits and cancellation fees for charter aircraft.
According to journalist Flynn Remedios who co-ordinated the IndyaWire.com Social Media survey on Russian Tourists to Goa, “We got about 2884 responses over two weeks. Out of the 2884 responses, about ten per cent of respondents had never visited Goa as yet, so were disqualified. Out of the remaining respondents, about 42 per cent Russians who have visited Goa at least once in the last 4 years, said they did not want to come back to Goa again. Of course financial restrains is the main reason – Goa has become too expensive for the common man in Russia. Youngsters and college students from Russia, just cannot afford Goa any more.”
Several charter operators who ferry Russian tourists to Goa also agree that the demand has not picked up. According to a Business Standard report, a weak rouble led to a severe drop in Russian visitors to Goa last season and the state’s travel companies fear arrivals could decline this year too with the Airport Authority of India (AAI) hiking the deposit amount it collects from charter companies.
In 2013-14, Goa airport handled 1141 charter flight movements and that number declined to 889 during last season till May 2015. The AAI collects a deposit from charter companies while granting them arrival and departure slots and for this year season the authority has revised the deposit structure leading to protests from local tour operators.
“Is the Indian government trying to promote tourism or discourage it? Russian charter operator Nordwind has requested permission to operate only 36 flights to Goa while last year it flew over 250 flights. Monarch Airlines from UK is not flying to Goa this year. The increase in deposits has increased costs for these companies and now they even have to bear the risks for cancellation of flights,” said Bharat Atree, managing director of Caper Travels which handles charter flights in Goa.
According to Atree and other travel companies from Goa number of Russian tourists declined by about 40 percent last winter compared to 2013-14 seasons with many cancellations between January-May period.
“We have been demanding incentives from government to support charter companies which bring foreign tourists to Goa. Now instead of providing incentives, the government is charging higher deposits,” complained Francisco de Braganca, president of Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, according to Business Standard.
“The revision in deposits could lead to cancellations,” said Aloo Gomes Pereira, chief operating officer (charters) of Trail Blazer Tours India.
Goa’s Tourism woes are likely to continue for the second consecutive season this year 2015-16, with the common Russian tourist still preferring to stay away from Goa. The common Russian tourist finds Goa ‘trouble’ and no longer peaceful, not to forget – very expensive’.
IndyaWire.com conducted a survey over the last one week on Facebook and other social media sites, including VK or VKontakte – the Russian equivalent of Facebook – which is the second most popular Russian site after Yandex, to gauge the opinion of various foreigners including Russians and others from nearby states who have been regulars to Goa over the 4-5 ten years. “We are not coming to Goa this year too,” opined many survey participants. “No Goa” was the common reply we got.
To add to this list several Brits and Europeans plan to skip Goa this season – for various reasons. Goa has become very dirty, noisy and expensive – it is no longer the peaceful ‘heaven on earth’ that it was till a few years ago, was the common refrain among Brits and Europeans.
Michael Lobo, BJP MLA from Calangute while speaking to news agency IANS recently had said that Goa’s burgeoning garbage problem, robberies near beaches and memories of the 2008 sexual assault on a British teenager are still deterrents for tourists from Britain to visit the state.
According to Lobo, as quoted by IANS, in view of the continuing bleak perspective from the Russian market for the coming tourist season as well, Goa should woo back British tourists. “There are three reasons why tourist arrivals from the UK (Britain) dropped. “One of them is bag snatching near beaches, sometimes at knife-point, the Scarlett rape case and failure to solve our garbage problem,” he said.
According to the IANS report, in 2012, Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office had issued an advisory to its tourists traveling to Goa to be beware of bag snatching in and around the Calangute-Baga beach stretch.
Goa’s inability to manage garbage, especially in coastal areas which often see heaps of filth on roads and fields, has also been a concern for tourism industry stakeholders who have pleaded with the Goa government to address the problem.
Lobo said with the Russian economy in crisis and the expected shortfall of Russian tourists for the 2015-16 tourist season, Goa’s tourism ministry should look to re-invest in tourism promotion in Britain.