Shadow of Ukraine war looms over India’s Sunshine State

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It’s been nearly 20 days since a Russian tourist walked into Shashank Servaia’s retail alcohol store ‘Liquor Universe’, located near a busy intersection along the buzzing Calangute-Candolim coastal stretch.

“Foreign tourists were around till a while back, but for the last 20 days, ever since the military escalation between Russia and Ukraine, there has not been a single Russian walk-in into the store,” Servaia claims.

Not that budget-constrained Russian and Ukrainian tourists who travel on modest charter packages to Goa were known to be big spenders. The popular Indian dark rum, Old Monk, according to Servaia, was their favourite, but the mix of international and domestic tourists is what makes up for Goa’s successful tourism story, he says.

In the midst of its conventional tourism season — from October to March — Goa was looking to cash in on the dropping Covid cases. But the war between Russia and Ukraine appears to have cast another shadow of uncertainty over the state’s tourism prospects.

The significance of tourist footfalls from Russia, even Ukraine, to Goa can be understood in official government statistics over the last four years.

In 2018, 2,94,569 tourists from the United Kingdom and 3,33,565 from Russia landed in Goa, while in 2019, 2,71,684 and 3,41,730 tourists from the UK and Russia, respectively, arrived in the state. In 2018 and 2019, 46,826 and 39,585 Ukrainians landed in Goa, respectively.

In 2019, just as the Covid pandemic was leaving its footprint across the globe, the footfalls dropped considerably, with 1,07,353, 83,565 and 2,487 tourists from the UK, Russia and Ukraine, respectively, arriving in Goa.

In 2020, with the pandemic grinding down the global economy, tourist footfalls faced a steep drop with 2,695, 1,164 and a mere 22 tourists arriving from the UK, Russia and Ukraine, respectively.

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, the UK, Germany, Ukraine and other European countries from the harsh winter there.

Russians topped the number of foreign tourists visiting Goa every year, before the advent of the Covid pandemic. Nearly eight million tourists arrived in Goa ahead of the pandemic, out of which half a million were foreigners.

Charter tourists form the backbone of the resort, entertainment and beach sub-economies in Goa’s tourism sector.

According to the state Tourism Director Menino D’Souza, Goa’s tourism prospects would be marred by the war in Europe.

“Prior to this war also, charter flights had to be cancelled because of this disturbance. It will not only impact the tourism trade, but also the economy. Russians are the main foreigner tourists who come to Goa, and if flights are cancelled, it will definitely impact us,” D’Souza said.

The next best bet for the tourism industry stakeholders is domestic tourists, who, according to Gaurish Dhond from the All Goa Hotel and Restaurant Owners Association, could help keep the state’s tourism flag flying in the face of a glut in foreign tourist arrivals.

“50 per cent of Goa’s GDP comes from the tourism industry. Foreign tourists and charter flights contribute a very large amount towards the GDP. It is a win-win situation when you have domestic and foreign tourists coming into Goa. With this war between Russia and Ukraine, entire Europe is getting disturbed. Footfalls from the UK and other European countries to Goa is expected to drop by almost 50 per cent,” Dhond said.

“We are trying to make it up through domestic tourists. There are many conventions — private, destination weddings — happening in Goa, which is our survival at the moment. It will take some time before Russians and Europeans come down to Goa. This season will be totally washed away,” he added.

While Goa will have to learn to adapt to the changes in the geopolitical conflict in Europe, the state’s major source region for inbound tourism, according to Amiya Kumar Sahu, Associate Professor, Finance and Accounting at the Goa Institute of Management, the state needs a long-term plan and even consider expanding its portfolio of source countries as far as international tourists are concerned.

“Goa needs to think for the long-term and plan. We need to rebuild a better tourism climate and culture by improving infrastructure. For example, we now have very good roads; similarly, we need cleaner beaches,” Sahu said.

“We need to address the needs and preferences of target countries from which we wish to attract tourists and look to expand the portfolio of (source market) countries. This can be done through collaboration and partnerships. Marketing Goa as one of the best international destinations is key. The state needs to plan for events throughout the year and prepare a tourism calendar,” he added.

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