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The tourist season is all set to take off in the next couple of weeks. The state witnessed a record number of tourist arrivals last season, and this time too, expectations from the industry are high, writes SHOMA PATNAIK

Tourism: Banking on hope

The new tourist season of 2014-15 shows promise. Domestic footfalls always surge in weekends and a bunching of festivals with holidays indicates that a mini-vacation is on the cards. Airline tickets are sky-high as also bus tickets. Room occupancy is in the region of 75 per cent (mid-priced hotels). And that, according to those in the hospitality industry, is a good start to the busy season ahead.
Tourist arrivals, according to the government, will set a new benchmark this year growing by 15 per cent compared to 10.5 per cent in 2103. The optimism is based on robust numbers in the off-peak period of May-August when both domestic as well as foreign traffic increased steadily. It is reflected in foreign tourists of 7,000 in August- a month where overseas arrivals are usually low.
The sustained push in marketing Goa as an all-year holiday destination is at last paying off and combined with other factors like visa-on-arrival, more airline flights and occasions such as Exposition, ISL, IFFI, etc, will boost tourism in 2014, point out officials.
The only dampener to these positive signals is fears of lower charter arrivals from abroad which brought in 2.6 lakh foreign tourist in 2013-14 from 1,128 flights. Lesser charters from Russia seems be the culprit. It comprises 78 per cent of the charter market, but with the Russian economy in doldrums, travel from the segment is likely to be lower in the forthcoming season, says Earnest Dias, regional head, SITA.
Other market segments where charter tour operators have expressed fears are UK, Scandinavia and Switzerland. UK accounts for 16 per cent of the arrivals but with the average British feeling the pinch of slowdown it is belt-tightening that the segment is witnessing, says a tour operator.
Ground level checks reveal differing views on the industry outlook depending on the segment of the stakeholder. “I just hope to maintain numbers”, says Dias, the largest tour operator in Goa who has about 30 per cent of the market. While Charles Bonifacio, a top hospitality expert, is hopeful that a good domestic season will make up for the drop in charter tourist.
On the other hand, shack owner Joe Pires from Candolim is cheerful for the coming season. The government this year has permitted shacks to come up in October instead of November. Land demarcation of beach area for each shack is in process and construction will commence soon. Pires wishes that the process of demarcation is completed quickly so as to be an early bird in the tourism race.
Shacks, he adds, fared well in 2013 due to substantial domestic tourists and this year should be a similar trend, he says. Taxi driver Mahesh Naik from Mapusa is also eagerly awaiting the tourist season to begin properly. The row over bringing an outsider cab company has subsided for the moment and Naik says that all he wants is more tourists to save up for a new car in the next season.
The government, say other stakeholders, must get cracking on more amenities for travellers if it wants Goa to retain its slot as a favoured holiday destination. Despite problems of infrastructure, lack of entertainment, says Naik, tourists are very happy with this place and prefer it to anywhere else for a holiday.

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