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Less Russians on Goan beaches this season

By Ians English

Panaji, Oct 19: Russian tourist arrivals in Goa are expected to drop by nearly 20 percent this season due to a mix of factors, including the European economic crisis, Russian tour operators going bankrupt and the Ukraine-Russia conflict, according to a top official of the Russian Information Centre (RIC).

Its head, Ekaterina Belyakova, said that amid the present slump, expeditious implementation of the visa-on-arrival facility at the state's Dabolim International Airport would help increase foreign tourist arrivals in the beach state.

"In the beginning of season I had hoped that the Russian tourist season will be same, but in reality it will go down by at least 20 per cent," Belyakova told IANS.

The RIC is endorsed by the Russian consulate in Goa and was started last year as a resource and assistance centre for the nearly 250,000 Russian tourists who visit Goa every season from October to March. The Centre was also started to soothe tensions following increasing squabbles between Russians and locals over setting up of businesses by foreign nationals, some of them illegal, and staking a claim for a piece of Goa's tourism pie.

Belyakova listed out three key issues for the expected drop in the number of Russian tourists, of which a floundering Russian and European economy tops the list. "The dollar rate in Russia has become very high. Last year, one dollar was equal to 32 roubles, now it is 41, making tour packages expensive," Belyakova said.

Aggressive undercutting has also resulted in several Russian firms like Labyrinth, one of the biggest tour operators which accounted for nearly 20 per cent of the chartered arrivals to Goa, in a financial mess, Belyakova said.

"Several other tour operators are also in dire straits and it could have a direct bearing on Goa's arrivals as far as Russian tourists, the biggest contingent of foreign tourists to the state, are concerned," she added.

According to Belyakova, it was a case where the marketing levelling out and stabilizing would take time.

"It is not possible for the market to stabilize so fast. It will stabilise, but it will take time," she said, adding that the Ukraine-Russia conflict could also contribute to the slump in numbers.

Belyakova, however, claimed that while the charter tourist arrivals would dip, there would be a rise in the number of Free Individual Travellers (FIT) to Goa. While the charter tourists have pre-fixed itineraries, FITs schedule their own itineraries, bookings and vacation plans.

Belyakova said that one remedy for the shrinking number of foreign tourists was to implement the visa-on-arrival facility at the Goa airport as soon as possible, which was promised by Finance minister Arun Jaitley in his budget speech in July.

"If it happens, then the tourist arrival number will increase by 30 percent or more. It can save the season," she said.

Goa's conventional tourist season starts in October and winds up in March, when the mild winter sun works as a good break for travellers from Russia, Britain and Germany, among others, from the harsh winter back home. Three million tourists visit Goa annually, nearly half a million of which are foreigners.

Goa's tryst with Russian tourists started in 2003, when the first charter flight flew in. Russians now account for the largest number of foreign tourist arrivals followed by British tourists.


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