Goa way beyond just beach tourism; weddings, adventure new major tourist engagements: Nikhil Desai

Strong focus on diversification of source markets, and the success of e-visa is helping Goa reclaim its premium position as a destination in the tourism landscape of the country. An exclusive interview with Nikhil Desai, Managing Director, GTDC.


How is the inbound shaping up in the current season? What are your expectations from the monsoon season?
As you are aware, Goa is evolving and during the last three years it has shown phenomenal results in any and every segment of tourism. This also goes for the numbers that everyone is talking about. From a statistical point of view, Goa received 5.25 million tourists in 2015 compared to 4.01 million in 2014 and 3.23 million in 2013. Goa is really growing at a frantic pace and the reasons are not really hard to see.

With regards to foreign tourist arrivals, there has been a steady growth. For example in 2013, as many as 4,92,322 foreign tourists visited Goa; in 2014, 5,13,592 and in 2015, as many as 5,41,480. In the case of domestic tourist arrivals, in 2013 we saw 26,29,151 arrivals, in 2014 as many as 35,44,634 and in 2015 as many as 47, 56,422 tourists.
Since November 2014, Goa airport has been brought under the Electronic Tourist Visa (ETV) regime and we are seeing an encouraging response from this segment too. With the inclusion of 150 countries in the ETV list, foreign nationals from more than 70 countries have already availed of this benefit and in the coming season we will see a huge surge with foreign tourists opting for Goa as the Port of entry into India.

The ETV facility is a big boon for Goa and reports indicate that Goa airport ranks third highest for issue of electronic tourist visas. Goa is also seeing an encouraging response from cruise liners bringing foreign tourists in large numbers from Europe. There is also a surge in foreign tourist arrivals as Free Itinerary Travellers (FITs). Hence even though there is a hue and cry from critics that there is a huge drop in charters, it has been compensated from the above mentioned segments. Again, our aggressive marketing and promotion strategies and participation in key international travel and tourism events are showing good results. We have managed to revive the UK market and foreign tourists from the UK are increasing and availing of the ETV facility extended to them. Even though there has been global recession and crises’ in Russia and Ukraine, we did not feel the pinch.

Newly introduced chopper service
Newly Introduced chopper service

Domestic tourist arrivals to Goa has been exceptionally strong. The numbers are growing every passing day. Today domestic tourists find Goa as a safe and happening, value for money holiday destination. They not only opt to holiday in Goa during long vacations but also for short weekends. Our tourism initiatives, facilities and events are drawing domestic tourists in a big way.

Even the monsoon time is not as lean as it used to be. Mega promotion of Goa as a Monsoon Tourist spot is drawing visitors, both domestic and foreign, to the State between June to September. In 2015, we saw a 22 per cent rise in tourist footfalls during the monsoons.

The seasonal adventure sport, White Water Rafting and monsoon festivals like Sao Joao, Bonderam, Sangodd, Chikolkala etc are some of the big attractions. Goa’s natural beauty during the monsoons is a must see and the mesmerizing landscapes are a big draw for tourists from the Middle East and Gulf who look for getaways from the simmering desert sun. We also promote eco-tourism, medical and wellness tourism at this time which has many takers.

How are you planning on promoting monsoon tourism in Goa? Are there special packages and promotional offers on the cards to augment footfalls? Please share with us.
Monsoon tourism in Goa is generally promoted for four months between June-September. At this time, most of the tourism business’ along the beach belt like shacks, water sports, shut shop. Charter flights also end for the season. However the tourism department and GTDC have started getting innovative. We promote attractive monsoon packages, promote monsoon festivals, Goa’s picturesque landscapes, monsoon weddings, white water rafting etc which has picked up and there is sizeable business and revenues generated through tourism in the monsoons. In fact, in another couple of years, the monsoons will have to be removed from the bracket as an off-season time. We conduct special eco trails into Goa’s hinterlands and give trekkers an awesome experience. Waterfalls and water bodies which come to life during the rains are promoted widely and special home cooked monsoon cuisine is served to make these treks attractive. Last year our eco treks received such an overwhelming response that they continued even beyond September until the rains subsided in the State. In addition, local festivals like Sao Joao and Bonderam are promoted by Goa Tourism and they attract tourists from all over the world.

Goa has increased luxury tax on hotels and added VAT on ATF making flying dearer. Liquor is going to get more expensive, as well. Do you think all of these measures will have a cumulative impact on footfalls? Is this an attempt to change the positioning of the destination? What is the rationale behind shift in the policy?
All these policy decisions will not impact tourism in any way. The governments,both at the Center and State , are very supportive of tourism as an industry and decisions of hike in taxes are basically linked to excise and commercial taxes, which are diverted back to tourism for infrastructure and other assistance schemes. Increase in VAT was a right move because even when we had 12% VAT on ATF, the airline companies never passed on these benefits to end user, due to the fact that all airline sectors into Goa are having very high passenger load. You will always find it difficult to get an air ticket to Goa during the season time, even hotels are booked well ahead of the season etc. Goa’s positioning as a 365 day holiday destination will not be affected in any way. Tourists are not only visiting Goa, but re-visiting year after year and this is our greatest reward.

Tell us a little bit about market segmentation? Where are you getting numbers from? How is the international inbound shaping?
Goa has learnt a lot of lessons during the last couple of years. No doubt we had many good seasons due to the rise in footfalls from Russia and Ukraine, but due to several crises’ we saw a sharp drop from these two markets. Realizing that we had placed all our apples in one basket, we had to find solutions and look beyond Russia and Ukraine.
After studying the market forces and scenarios along with experts, we took the plunge four years ago to develop markets in East Europe, Middle East, South East Asia which are yielding good results. To add to this, the ETV facility is also boosting the numbers and our new tourism initiatives, festivals, events and above all our diverse culture is a big draw for foreign tourists. We have several international events like the International Film Festival India – Goa, international sports events, festival tourism, weddings, MICE,music festivals, bike festivals etc and we are also hosting the Delphic Games later this year and music events of international magnitude which bring foreign tourists to the State. While economic recession and several other issues continue to irk some of our key markets, we are hoping that these markets will revive and bring about a change in travel plans for global visitors in the coming seasons.

Is there any new addition to the product profile of Goa? Any new introduction on the infra front?
If you look closely, Goa has now moved beyond beach tourism. We have a plethora of offerings for tourists, both domestic and foreign. Goa Tourism is catering to the high-end and middle end categories. We have shifted to new facets and these too are becoming our strengths. To begin with, Goa is now a preferred destination for weddings and honeymoons. As many as 1,000 plus big time weddings are happening in Goa every year. Goa Tourism also set up a single window system to facilitate beach weddings, and foreign tourists and North Indians are availing of this facility in a big way. Goa is well connected by air, train and road, we have the best of wedding and banqueting facilities, wedding planners and everything to make those dream weddings for young couples. Today even our hot air balloons, helicopter rides and soon to come seaplanes and duck boats will offer wedding specials. Goa’s leisure tourism, heritage tourism, hinterland tourism, sports tourism, wellness and yoga tourism, film tourism are some of the new facets being promoted by Goa Tourism widely across the country and the globe. Today, we also have an all new interactive web portal and mobile app which makes it even more easy for anyone to get connected for information, bookings and benefits. All this has found favour with international and domestic tourists. From a focus on attracting tourists from Europe, we are now catering to needs and requirements for everyone across the globe and India.
Aware of the fact that there is a big demand for tourism products, Goa Tourism is in the process of augmenting infrastructure requirements. Our top priority is to have toilets, showers, lockers on all the beaches. Likewise, we are increasing parking facilities along the coastal areas, developing coastal circuits that will take care of illuminations, roads, pathways, beautification etc. We are working on new circuits for augmenting infrastructure under spiritual tourism, river circuits and so on. We have already been allocated `99.99 crore in the first phase under Swadesh Darshan scheme of the Central government.

Our multi level car parking project, Baga tourism destination development project are ready for commissioning, our accommodation facilities are being refurbished etc. We are also developing seven properties for niche tourism products. We also plan to have a state-of-the-art Convention Centre to facilitate MICE, an all new Institute of Hotel Management, Ropeways, Oceanarium. While we already have a wedding and banqueting facility at our Calangute Residency called Destination One, plans are on to develop some more such facilities.

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