Ahead of the Goa Assembly’s budget session, Goa’s tourism body has urged the CM Pramod Sawant and the government to allow chartered flights in the state from safe destinations to boost tourism.
Goa’s tourism industry heavily depends on foreign tourists and charter flights. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state’s much-awaited charter season has been put on indefinite hold.
The charter season in the state usually commences by the mid of October and concludes the following year, by April-May months. International tourists fly in from all across the globe and the footfalls cross lakhs each time.
But all the scheduled international flight operations were suspended from March 23 last year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Amid the suspension, special international flights have been allowed under the Vande Bharat Mission since May last year and under bilateral “air bubble” arrangements with select countries since July.
And much to the disappointment of the tourism sector in Goa, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation last week extended the suspension of international commercial passenger flight services till March 31st due to the spread of new variants in European and African countries as well as due to the sudden surge of cases in neighboring states.
In light of this, The Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG), in a memorandum to CM on Tuesday, said various trade bodies have suggested forming travel bubbles with Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, other CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries, the UK, Poland, and Finland for these commercial flights.
“We have proposed that chartered flights be allowed to land in Goa from safe destinations and bubbles be formed,” TTAG president Nilesh Shah said in the memorandum.
With many countries witnessing a second wave of infections, air bubbles, which allow citizens to travel freely between specified nations under a reciprocal arrangement, seem to be the new normal in international air travel.
Air bubbles are systems established between two countries that perceive each other to be safe and allow carriers of both countries to fly passengers either way without any restrictions. The Baltic countries like Lithuania and Latvia were the first countries to try out the air bubble concept allowing free travel among themselves while restricting outsiders.
Air bubbles are different from repatriation flights, which are only one way and the passengers have to register themselves with the embassy to board such flights. In July, India had initially established travel bubbles with the United States, Germany, and France. Since then India has formed agreements with 10 other nations including United Kingdom, Canada, the Maldives, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Japan.
TTAG president Nilesh Shah added that the state government should also provide landing and airport fees waiver to foreign airlines and operators of chartered flights for one year from March 1, 2021. This will help to revive the state’s tourism industry, the TTAG said in its memorandum.