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Goa breaks into UK holiday charts

London, Nov. 8: Goa is now a favourite destination for British holidaymakers, according to a survey by Thomas Cook, the UK travel company.

In the league table of the top 15 holiday destinations, it comes in for the first time at number 10 (see chart).

In a sense, no nudes is good news for Goa. Thomas Cook's brochures promote Goa as 'a haven for your tastebuds and your spirits, an exotic land of soft beaches, swaying palm trees, magnificent sunsets and wildlife, where the food is delicious and the markets are ablaze with colour'.

Once known as a haunt for hippies who liked to chill out with a joint while their women folk in various states of undress offered Indian beach strollers an eyeful, things are apparently changing.

'A whole ministerial team from Goa is here at the World Travel Mart in London,' said Vivek Angra, the director of the government of India tourist office.

Tourism minister Renuka Chowdhury is also in London.

'Goa is very popular for the UK market. We are trying to market it as a kind of upmarket destination and move away from the charter image,' he added.

He estimated that of the around 5,00,000 British holidaymakers who visit India every year, 'about 50,000 to 60,000 go to Goa'.

New hotels and infrastructure are being built in Goa, not least to accommodate the resort's location as the permanent site for the International Film Festival of India.

The first one is due to begin at the end of this month.

Angra said: 'There are upmarket hotels going up. The Goa Hyatt has the largest swimming pool in India, probably in Asia. It is possible to go to Goa for a week on a '500 charter, which includes bed and breakfast at a two-star. But we are trying to change Goa's image and attract fewer tourists but who are higher spending.'

The desire to head for guaranteed winter sun has helped push Egypt, Cuba, Tunisia and Goa up into this year's table.

A Thomas Cook spokesperson said: 'It looks like people are really starting to appreciate how great it is to escape the dreary weather in winter and get a week or two of sun, and that it's affordable to go a bit further than the Canaries and Cyprus. The weakness of the dollar is a real draw for holidaymakers to visit Florida, the Caribbean and Mexico, as it means there is more spending money to be had.'

She went on: 'Goa is certainly unique in terms of its culture. We are trying to get away from the past image. We offer a wide range of hotels from '900 for a week at the Taj Exotica or the Leela Palace to '400 (at a budget hotel). Our survey is based on Thomas Cook bookings but it is indicative of the British tourism market as a whole.'

Bruce Palling, editor of the travel bi-monthly, Terra Firma, said Goa had been pushed up because of the proximity of its good beaches, its relative cheapness, the use of English and its heritage.

Palling, a former journalist who lived in India before running a travel company, Western & Oriental, which he sold two years ago, commented: 'What I find interesting is that Goa has come ahead of Sri Lanka and Thailand. It is a good thing that Goa is not dominated by westerners. There are 10 times as many Indian tourists there. I like a place where westerners are not making an impact.'

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