Overlooking the golden sun shining upon smooth sand, listening to the meditative sound of waves crashing while kicking back with one’s favorite cooler… a happy soul nourished with the most mouth-watering seafood, humming a lazy tune to the chaotic bubbling chatter of people in the distance- this is the picture that comes to almost immediately at the very mention of GOA.
What had long ruled the hearts of many travelers as their favorite holiday destination, met the news of a nationwide lockdown amid a global pandemic with much gloom and perturbation.
The tourism industry has been the backbone of our economy for a long time, especially after the crippling of the mining industry. The report ‘Coping with COVID-19: Survival and Revival of Goa’s Tourism Industry’ compiled by the Goa Tourism Ministry and consultancy firm KPMG Advisory Services Pvt. Ltd, also said that the state tourism industry directly contributes 16.43% of revenue towards the state Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and approximately 35% of the state’s population is directly employed by the tourism sector. With a huge proportion of the population directly being a part of the hospitality and food business, and several others constituting the fleet of ancillary services such as transport and related business services, the ramifications of the slump in tourism was felt strongly by the state. Goa’s tourism industry may have suffered a loss of between Rs. 2,000 to Rs. 7,200 crore and job losses in the range of 35% to 58% on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, in an optimistic turn of events, or perhaps simply the irresistible charm of its coastal beauty, the tourism sector is now picking up steadily. As per a recent Moneycontrol report, bookings to Goa jumped by 74 percent, and inquiries by 66 percent in October. Reasons for this could be many. Firstly, the relatively hotter temperature of Goa served as an early control on the spread of the virus and was perceived by people as a safer option for travel. Owing to better control over the situation, and being one of the first states to report no cases, the state government eased the lockdown and opened up borders for tourism. There was much relief provided in terms of the entry protocol too as, by October, the requirement for a Negative certificate was scrapped as long as tourists maintained social distancing, along with the use of masks and sanitizers.
No longer since the opening of Goan borders was announced, eager youngsters who had been home-bound for months together flocked into the state for a much-needed unwinding in the sun, sand, and sea. The work-from-home component of the pandemic definitely played a pivotal role here by allowing professionals to work on the go. Initially, most tourists were attracted from the neighboring states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat, traveling by road. ‘Workacations’ and ‘Drivecations’ thus were the hottest pandemic trends to swear by.
This was followed by the Diwali break which caused quite a surge in the domestic tourist footfall. The annual Diwali-time smog and pollution may have been responsible for the sudden spurt in Delhi-based tourists coming into the state. Following this were the peak tourist seasons of Christmas and New Year. According to Cleartrip.com flight routes from the top cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad to Goa dominated the list for most frequent flight routes during Christmas time. This indicates that the pent-up demand for travel had translated into bookings.
Some trends noted were that Advanced booking share greater than four weeks had dropped down by almost 30% with travelers preferring to book closer to the date, owing to the uncertainty of travel conditions. Overall flight bookings have risen 5 percent on a month-on-month basis, but are still 40-45 percent of last year’s sales.
The caution being exercised by travelers during this time has proved to be especially beneficial to the higher-end and luxury hotel and resort, thanks to their perceived impression of better hygiene and stricter protocol. As a result of the same some 46,000 rooms had been opened up for booking by October last year. Further, the hotels too were rather eager on hosting in order to recover their losses from the previous months, and hence generously slashed their prices. Furthermore, casinos were also opened and allowed to run on 50% capacity and added to the cascading of tourists.
Despite the conventional Goan tourist season stretching from October to March being the preferred time for foreign arrivals, the pandemic played a major hindrance this time around. This was balanced, to a certain extent by an unending flow of domestic tourists. As a silver lining, limitations in traveling to other popular international destinations such as Italy, China and Thailand among others, have managed to preserve most domestic tourists within the border, and also directed some foreigners towards our shores.
Some challenges still persist as the pandemic is still far from gone. Tourist flow has not assured complete revival yet, as the holidaymakers seem to be rather wary- they seem to be carrying packaged foods as opposed to dining at the shacks, buying liquor from wholesale wine stores, and preferring to travel in their private vehicles. Moreover, increasing tourist flow and slackening of protocol over the last few months has shown to be causing an alarming rise in positive cases by the day, and raises the possibility of reinforcing stricter SOPs. However, the overall picture surely does not seem bleak as our economy, much like our beaches, seems to be livening out of its brief slumber.