Goa is still struggling to find ways of bringing more charters from UK
SINCE the collapse of Thomas Cook-UK there has been no replacement to bring in charters from the United Kingdom to Goa. The peak tourist season is now only a couple of weeks away. Soon after Thomas Cook-UK stopped operations Chief Minister Pramod Sawant had promised to get Air India to fill the vacuum and operate direct charter flights from the UK to Goa. The state government claims to have made efforts to persuade Air India but they failed. Air India cited lack of appropriate type and number of aircraft to operate direct charters from the UK to Goa. Representatives of the tourism industry feel that the state government did not pursue the matter to a profitable conclusion. Being a BJP-ruled state, Goa could have taken up the issue with the Union Civil Aviation Minister and top party leadership in order to prevail over Air India to start charter flights between the UK and Goa. The tourism industry’s grievance that the state government did not do enough to convince the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Air India management to operate UK-Goa charters does have a basis. After all, the Punjab government managed to get Air India to operate charter flights between the UK and Amritsar. Does it not show that Punjab used its political clout more effectively than Goa did, despite being a state run by the Congress?
Thomas Cook-UK used to bring around 35,000 tourists from the UK to Goa by chartered flights. British tourists make a very large segment among foreign tourists that come to Goa. Their large number brought business to hotels and restaurants in the coastal belt. With charters from the UK reduced, this number has become smaller, and that reduction has impacted hotel occupancy and clientele at the restaurants. Tourists from the UK, especially from the middle classes, made Goa a favourite destination, because it offered them sunny beaches, a hospitable environment, ease of communication and lower costs of everything compared to many other tourist destinations offering beaches for bathing and sunning. It remains to be seen how the Goa government is going to make up for the reduction in the number of UK-Goa charters. Tourism director Sanjiv Gadkar gives the tourism industry hope that arrival of foreign tourists from other countries might fill up the vacuum. Gadkar argues that all foreign tourists do not come by charters, and his department was trying to get more foreign tourists. It is hard to deny however that charters play a big role in boosting the number of foreign tourist arrivals. It is also hard to deny that a large number of foreign tourists that come to Goa, by charters or as independent travellers, are budget travellers. Travel in chartered flights from their country and to Goa and back home cost tourists far less than travelling independent did.
Despite the fact that Goa was a major tourist attraction, the state authorities have not done enough to promote it the right way nor have created many amusements to attract them and retain them for a longer period. Charter flights decreased by 17 per cent in 2017-18 following the collapse of Russian economy. Though the overall number of tourist arrivals was 80.15 lakh last year, the growth of tourist arrivals was a measly 2.5 per cent last season as compared to 22 per cent seen in the previous tourist season. The state authorities have for long been speaking of attracting high-end tourists but have utterly failed to create the right kind of services for them. Though the number of tourists has risen significantly, the infrastructure continues to be old and rickety. While the ongoing season apparently may not be able to see the expected number of British tourists, the state needs to plan for the future. It is necessary that the state ties up with tour operators, domestic and foreign, for increased flow of tourists so as to ensure that the tourism sector reaps benefits. The state also has to ensure that tourists have a hassle-free stay within the legal framework. However, the immediate priority should be to galvanise the tourism industry so that it makes up for the loss of tourists from the UK as fast and as satisfactorily as it can.