The tourism department recently issued a statement trumpeting the spike in arrivals to this destination 2012-2013. The press handout said the department had “registered a record arrival of 27.8 lakh tourists,” 4.5 lakh of which were foreigners. The official statistics show a 4.4 per cent spike in tourist traffic from the previous year. The figures, nudging the 3 million arrivals mark, are no doubt impressive. They show that by the end of this year there would have been twice the number of tourists holidaying in Goa than those of us living here. The latest census figures have pegged the state’s population at 1.45 million. The surge in arrivals, though, has little to do with the change in government, and even less with Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar who said he was delighted that the “all-time high” had been achieved as a result of the government’s “positive steps”. Some of the leading players in the tourism industry have been consistently sounding the warning bugle against officials getting carried away with the sheer surge in numbers ~ most of these from the low end of the spectrum ~ without bothering in the least about the glaring infrastructure shortfall.
But first, to the statistics. Tourist traffic to Goa has shown a consistent north-bound graph (with few exceptions determined by major global events) from 1985. Going back just this decade, the most impressive growth was registered in the years 2001-2004 when arrivals spiked by 8.8 per cent, 15.7 per cent, 27.71 per cent (in 2003) and 20.1 per cent (2004). This destination has made life-time highs in arrivals every single year in the last decade, except for 2005 when it registered a slump of 6 per cent, and 2008~ after the large cancellations following the Mumbai attacks ~ when tourist traffic dropped nearly 10 per cent. Before this government took over in March 2012, the industry registered a growth of 5.5 per cent, 5.6 per cent and one percent in the three previous years. Goa has sold itself out to tourism, and will continue to do so, so long as it is perceived as a cheap destination and a quick get away to the rest of the country with few laws to fetter the self-indulgent holiday maker.
The statistics for international arrivals too are revealing. The long-haul charters went up to 987 till early this month, flying in 2.15 lakh tourists ~ 50 per cent of the foreign traffic. Over 80 per cent of the charter flights ~ 742 of them ~ came from Russia and 152 from the UK. Hit by the recession, travellers from Britain who used to outnumber the Russians till two years ago had declined visibly. But arrivals from the UK too have shown a recovery from 2011 to 2012, up 1.19 lakh from 1.17 lakh. Russian tourists to Goa are of course still on the march, with over 140,000 of them (31 per cent of foreign arrivals) having wintered here till early this year. So it’s no surprise at all that hotelier Victor Albuquerque, recently appointed honorary consul for Russia in Goa, sees those numbers shooting up to 200,000 over the next 24 months. The profile of Russians in Goa has taken a beating with their very visible involvement in questionable land deals and shady entertainment and tourism businesses, not to mention the fact that they’ve turned Morjim into a virtual Russian tourist outpost. Though an honorary consul’s position tends to be titular at best, Albuquerque has an opportunity for proactive diplomacy which, as he told the media, he plans to explore by bringing in cultural troupes from Russia. His appointment for one puts a face on what was becoming a huge, but somewhat nebulous and unchecked segment of the tourism industry. The Russians are said to account for 60 per cent of the foreign tourist spending in Goa. That though, does not give them the right to flout the rules of business or decorum.
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