Se Cathedral, Goa. (Photo by © Vyacheslav Argenberg via Wikimedia Commons)
With lockdown in neighbouring states, the imposition of night curfew, curtailed frequency of flights, continued ban on international passenger charter, closed hotels, and an unrelenting spike in Covid-19 active cases and deaths, Goa is staring at an unprecedented tourism crisis.
Nearly 2,100 of the total registered 3,500 hotels have downed their shutters, 5-star hotels have slashed their rates by nearly 40-50% with a meagre occupancy rate of 5-10%, a drastic drop from a high of 80% occupancy in March this year. Footfalls in casinos are paltry, and phones of car/bike rental companies have fallen silent.
Goa Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant on Wednesday announced a lockdown for four days till May 3 - bars, pubs and casinos will remain closed for the four days, while restaurants will be allowed to stay open for home deliveries only. Public transport, too, will be affected, with only essential services allowed to function during the lockdown from April 29 - May 3.
Amid this pandemic and loss of livelihood, the only fillip-providers are the 15 film/television serial units that moved to Goa for regular shoots, and families/couples who have shifted their base to Goa for longer duration than the usual five-day or weekend rentals.
“Of the total 3,500 registered hotels in Goa, only 1,400 are open. Most 1-4 star hotels remain closed because of ban on international charter flights. Right now, the biggest demand is for 5-star hotels as high-end tourists feel safer in branded hotels. Boat business has gone down by 40% and shacks that earlier closed in May, locked their doors in March this year,” said Nilesh N. Shah, president, Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG), a non- profit, non-governmental organisation representing the hotel and travel trade in Goa.
Shah attributes this low tourist headcount to lockdown and rising Covid cases in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Delhi that earlier accounted for most domestic tourists in Goa. “From almost 80 flights bringing in 11,500 tourists every day, the numbers have now dwindled to 3,500 a day. While on a good day, flights landed with 70-80% seat occupancy, currently the load is less than 30-35%. A few flights are almost empty and the airlines have had no choice but to cancel or combine flights,” Shah added.
Quite like hotels, casinos are ruing their current fate. Both onshore and offshore casinos, which were once one of the biggest tourist draws in the state, are witnessing a huge drop in arrivals. “Though casinos are open 24x7, they are at their glorious best during graveyard shifts. With the imposition of night curfew (10pm-6am), no one walks in anymore. During the day, you might find a handful of people pottering around but the numbers are so low that the business is not sustainable,” a casino official said on condition of anonymity.
The dearth of tourists has also badly affected the ancillary verticals. Car and bike rental companies have no takers. John F. of Vailankanni Auto Hires (www.goacars.in) is feeling the no-tourist no-demand pinch. Until mid-March this year, its inventory of 100 rental cars was sold out every day. With rentals starting at Rs 1,000 per day, two-day rentals were the most sought-after. In the past few days, the demand has dipped to the lowest.
“In the past two weeks, our business is down to 5% and our phones have stopped ringing. Hotels have shut and now there are no takers,” John F. told Moneycontrol.
While car/bike rental companies are waiting for their phones to ring, the phone of Sandeep Naik, managing partner, Homes and Estates Consultancy Service (www.homesgoa.com) hasn’t stopped ringing. Since the pandemic, Naik has witnessed unprecedented increase in demand for long-term rentals in Goa.
“So many families and young couples are moving to Goa for six months to one-two years that I have exhausted my entire inventory of rental properties. I still get three-four enquiries every day for long-term rentals, with greatest demand being homes/apartments in the range of Rs 30,000-60,000 rent per month. Nearly 35% demand is for properties up to Rs 1 lakh rent while 5-10% clients are looking for high-end properties wherein the rent could go up to Rs 2.5 lakh a month,” Naik said.
Aparna Pande, a former public relations professional, is one of the growing set of people coming to Goa during the pandemic. She moved from New Delhi into a single-bedroom north Goa apartment a few weeks ago, and quickly fell in love with the good produce, good air, slower lifestyle, and proximity to nature that Goa offers. For her, what started out as a one-month experiment has already extended to a long-term stay plan. “I no longer want to go back to Delhi, to a life where I was not mindful of my own existence. In Goa, my entire perspective about life has changed. I hope I do not ever return to the rat race and polluted environment,” Pande said.
The pandemic has also altered the landscape preference of long-term dwellers. Earlier, everyone wanted to be walking distance from the sea/river, now the preference is for secluded areas. “People want to avoid crowded beaches and live in quieter inland dwellings,” Naik added.
Production of films and television serials is providing some succour to the hospitality industry. Goa is not a new favourite for the entertainment industry but the pandemic has turned the state into the preferred haunt of production units. “In August 2020, three-four films were being shot in Goa; currently, at least 15 films/serials are being shot in the state. Most production units book hotels for two months and are also providing livelihood to other sectors,” Shah added.
According to the official website (goa.gov.in), as of April 26, 2021, Goa has recorded 79,798 Covid cases with 15,260 active cases and 1,055 mortality. However, a local newspaper cited the head of Directorate of Health Services as saying that Goa might have to wait for sometimes to get people aged 18-44 vaccinated. (On Tuesday, Dr Pramod Sawant, Goa chief minister, said that he had requested the Serum Institute of India for five lakh doses of Covishield for 18-45 year olds. "The vaccine drive will start as soon as we receive the quota," Dr Sawant said.)
Murmurs of a complete-lockdown announcement were being heard even before Wednesday's announcement. Yet, not everyone was in favour of one. Goa State Industries Association (GSIA), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) had been supporting the chief minister’s efforts to keep “economic activity rolling by avoiding complete lockdown”.
On Tuesday afternoon, Dr Sawant also held a meeting with Goa Police Force regarding enforcement of Covid-19 norms. Between January and March this year, police in North Goa penalised 2,957 people for not wearing masks on beaches and collected Rs 5.86 lakh as fine from them.
According to the order issued on Tuesday afternoon, effective immediately, no more testing for travel purpose will be done at government-run facilities in Goa; only private laboratories and hospitals will provide that service.