Panaji – Even as the central government has refused to review its stringent visa rules which force tourists to take a two- month gap before re-entering India, tourism officials and tourism industry stakeholders say that the norms were damaging the tourism prospects of Goa that has seen a seven-percent drop in tourist arrivals.
While the state tourism department has admitted to a drop in the percentage of foreign tourists arriving in India, an industry captain has said the central government should learn to distinguish between physical security concerns and economic security of a tourism-oriented state like Goa.
‘There is no doubt that matters related to safety and security of the nation are of primary importance. However, it’s a fact that the revised strict visa rules have had an impact on tourism in Goa. We have seen fewer arrivals of tourists, a seven-percent drop since last year,’ tourism director Swapnil Naik told IANS.
Goa annually attracts nearly half a million foreign tourists, most of whom hail from European countries and arrive in Goa for the moderate winter sun, to beat the bitter winter on the Continent.
Naik said that the state government was continuously knocking on the doors of the union home ministry urging it to help find a solution to the tourist visa conundrum.
Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) spokesperson Ralph de Souza said that there was a need to distinguish between physical security concerns and economic security ones.
‘There is physical security including prevention of harm caused by terrorism. And there is economic security that includes not only the necessary prevention of harm caused by terrorism but also the need to provide for the essential and legitimate material needs of our people,’ de Souza said.
‘In the context of the new visa policy, it could be argued that the one is negating the other, for little, if any, gain. Losing tourist inflow from the western European markets will lead to a steep decline in foreign tourist arrivals into Goa which is known to enjoy over 40 percent of repeat clientele from these markets, especially the UK,’ de Souza further said.
He said that in a more moderate visa regime, which allowed tourists five multiple entries in the country, many international tourists visited Goa year on year and ‘repeatedly contributed through their spending to the welfare of all of our people’.
‘Considering the circumstances it is absolutely imperative that we collectively lobby for a change in the visa policies,’ he said.
The union home ministry in a circular last week maintained that the new, stringent visa norms would stay because of numerous instances of ‘misuse’ of the tourist visas granted. This despite several requests made from governments of tourism-oriented states like Goa for a relaxation in the visa regulations.