According to industry estimates, around 250,000-275,000 foreign tourists come to India on charter flights during the peak season between October and April every year. Majority of them are from Russia, UK, Kazakhstan, Scandinavian and other European countries. This number has fallen by 50-60% this year, as visa issues forced many to shelve their travel plans.
The e-visa facility, suspended during the pandemic, is still not available to travellers from the UK, while Russian traffic has been hit due to the ongoing war, said leading tour operators and top officials from travels, tourism and hospitality associations.
“Charter tourism continues to be in limbo impacted,” said James Kodianthara, Managing Director, Concord Exotic Voyages. While flights from Russia and Kazakhstan began to arrive in November, Kodianthara says they are operating with smaller aircraft, and carrying just half the number of passengers that they used to. “Earlier mostly Boeing 747/777 would fly in the Russian tourists with close to 500 passengers in each flight, whereas now smaller airbuses are coming in with about 200-250 people,” he said.
While inbound travel restrictions were lifted in November 2021, charter operators found that Covid-protocols such as RT-PCR testing meant foreign tourists were not keen on travelling to India. This year businesses were looking forward to a post pandemic revival, but the traffic continues to be down by more than 50%. Tour operators said a lot of the regular India traffic is getting diverted to other countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Maldives, and Sri Lanka.
Charter travelers are leisure tourists who come to Goa for its swimmable beaches and shacks.
Most of these tourists spend a week to three weeks in Goa and some of them then travel to other parts of India. The season started late this year with the first charter from Russia arriving this week.
“Pre-covid Russian charters were bringing in at least 100,000 tourists every year. This year it will be around 35,000,” said HS Duggal, MD, Minar Travels. “With Russia not giving quick sanctions to aircraft, Aeroflot is operating only about three flights a week with 800-900 tourists, as against 5,000- 6,000 a week pre-Covid,” added Duggal. Goa has around 35,000-45,000 hotel beds across categories and across registered and unregistered entities, thus making it a popular destination for all charters. “There is an entire economy that thrives around these foreign travelers, a large majority of whom fly in from Russia during winter. This entire ecosystem – comprising of liquor businesses, pubs and hotels, restaurants, local handicraft and other shops, taxi services – everything is impacted due to a decline in footfalls,” said Shekhar Divadkar, President, Skal Club of Goa and Treasurer at TTAG.
Many of the unbranded and lower tier hotel were looking to restart this season but could not reopen their businesses again, said Divadkar.