Goa charter flights allowed from mid-October; but international arrivals expected only from mid-November

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#Charter flight to Goa, #Dabolim airport, #foreign charter flights, #Goa, #Goa charter flights, #Goa tourism, #goa travel, #International Charter Support (Waiver of Landing Fees) Scheme 2021, #Rossiya Airlines, #Small & Medium Hoteliers Association of Goa, #UK-Goa charter, permitted, 4,000 hotels

(Representative image) Goa Tourism data show that 813 charter flights landed in Goa between October 2018 and May 2019. Russia alone accounted for 292 of these flights.

Though the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has permitted the landing of charter flights from October 15, Goa is still waiting for the first charter to land in the state’s Dabolim Airport.

Rajeev Kumar, terminal manager of Goa Airport confirmed that no charter flight has landed yet.

Gagan Malik, director, Goa Airport, said that no applications have been made for charter flight slots as yet. Hence, there is no definite date for the actual resumption of charter flights into Goa. Charters can only land after flight slots and landing permissions are granted.

Goa’s charter season begins in October and runs till May each year. Russia and the UK are top source markets for Goa tourism, with the Scandinavian countries accounting for nearly 10% of total charter arrivals.

Flights from Russia are expected to start from mid-November but flights from the United Kingdom might not land before mid-December as TUI, one of the biggest players in the UK-Goa charter sector, has decided not to resume operations until December 13, 2021.

“So far, only Rossiya Airlines has received permission from the Russian government for two weekly flights to Goa. The DGCA is yet to approve the Rossiya Airlines flights and the schedule will be finalised once approvals are in place,” Abida Kumar, vice-president (operations), Minar Travels, said. Pre-pandemic, the New Delhi-headquartered travel company said it handled 125 charter flights from Russia every month. “Though visa application submissions have resumed, we still do not have clarity about chartered flights”, Kumar added.

Between October 2018 and May 2019, Goa received 813 charter flights and 218,776 foreign tourists. Over 90,000 tourists came from Russia in 292 flights, followed by the UK and Ukraine, according to Goa Tourism department data.

Goa received the highest number of charter flights in 2013-14. That year, the state received 1,128 flights carrying 261,452 foreign tourists. The number of foreign charter flights dropped to 798 in 2015-16 but climbed again to 988 in the following year.

Though charter flights are set to resume, not everyone is hopeful of the return of the pre-pandemic tourist footfalls.

“Pre-pandemic, every year there were at least 800 chartered flights into Goa, bringing nearly 2.7 lakh international tourists. This year, I am not expecting more than 300 flights from Russia. Just because the chartered flights have resumed, it does not mean we will go back to the pre-pandemic numbers,” said Serafino Cota, president, Small & Medium Hoteliers Association of Goa (SME).

“Out of the 4,000 hotels registered under SME, nearly 2,000 are small and medium hotels (up to 30 rooms; the remaining 2,000 are really small units of 1/2 bedrooms and paying guests registered with SME). Out of that number, 50% cater to the chartered arrivals. Most short-term Russian tourists stay for two weeks, it is the British who stay long-term. Pre-pandemic, there were at least 8,000 long-term stay tourists in Goa, out of which 3,000 were British tourists who prefer staying in South Goa,” added Cota.

According to real estate agent Krishna Kumar Thakur, nearly 80% of long-term British tourists are repeat arrivals. They come every year during the October-March season and prefer the neighbourhoods of Baga, Anjuna, Arpora, Vagator, while the Russians mainly stay in Arambol and Morjim. So large is the presence of Russians in Arambol that you’ll find a lot of signages here in the Russian language.

“In the past few years, the dwelling pattern of long-stay international tourists has undergone a sea change. Earlier budget tourists preferred staying in 2/3 star properties, now most of them are opting for apartment rentals through online travel aggregators. A few monied, repeat, long-term stay Britishers also prefer buying/leasing a property to avoid paying rentals for 4-6 months,” Sandeep Naik, founder, Homes & Real Estate Consultancy Services, said.

Waiver of landing charges: Earlier this month, the state government had notified a scheme called the ‘International Charter Support (Waiver of Landing Fees) Scheme, 2021’ to provide relaxation in landing charges of international charters to Goa in order to attract more charters and benefit the Goa tourism industry. The scheme, to provide benefit up to Rs 1 lakh per charter flight, will be in force for charter operators on first-come, first-serve basis from October 2021 to March 2022. The department of tourism, Goa, will provide reimbursement to the charters up to a maximum of Rs 1 lakh per international charter flight on landing charges excluding GST at Dabolim Airport, Goa.

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