The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Grim Goa gears to take on party poopers

Panaji, Dec. 18: News of a possible terror attack has come as a party-spoiler for Goa as it gears up for its busiest season. Officials, however, said there is no reason to panic.

Goa was hit by news reports surfacing mid-week that Israel has voiced fears about a terror attack during the New Year’s eve celebrations when tourists, a number of them Israeli, throng the place.

Coming in the wake of attacks on tourists in Bali and Mombasa, the tourism lobby could not afford to ignore the warnings and feared that such reports could send out wrong signals during the peak season.

Goa deputy director-general of police Karnal Singh has said there is “no cause” for panic. Intelligence inputs will be stepped up, protection at Goa’s lone airport at Dabolim enhanced and security beefed up at places, especially along the beach, frequented by foreigners.

However, mere rumours or unconfirmed news have been enough to unsettle the tourism applecart.

In recent years, Goa’s tourism has taken a beating following news about plague scare and communal riots. The Gulf War also proved to be a deterrent even though it occurred thousands of kilometres away and did not in any way affect Goa.

“Personally, I was expecting this type of a thing to happen after the (Bali) incident. This can happen where there are beach parties in which 5,000 to 10,000 people gather,” said Camilo D’Souza, who runs a small paying-guest and dining outlet at Anjuna in north Goa that attracts a number of foreign tourists and is also a former haunt of hippies.

“Many travellers used to come to my bar, but today there is nobody. I fear even those who are here could start heading off,” he added.

Goa gets more tourists — visiting for three to seven days on an average — every year than its 1.35 million residents, according to official statistics. These statistics have shown an increase in the number of tourists over the years, though the tourism sector complains of declining business.

Officials were unable to say how many Israeli tourists come to Goa every year, but the total number of foreign tourists is between 2,00,000-3,00,000, of which nearly 70 to 80 per cent are British.

Only a small fraction are Israelis, who are not treated as the preferred foreign guests, in part because they are seen as low spenders and also because some of them come immediately after stressful stints of military service and can get noisy or boisterous.

Goa was expecting charter flights to land from Israel this year, but the service has not begun yet.

Since the late eighties, direct European charters have come in, initially from Germany, then Britain and Scandinavia (Sweden and Finland).

Tourism in Goa has become lopsided in recent years with the large chunk of visitors coming in around Christmas and New Year and hotel rooms remaining mostly empty the rest of the year.

In December and early January, on the other hand, hotels are overbooked and prices shoot up.

In an advertisement doing the rounds, the Goa government’s department of tourism has cautioned hotel owners against overcharging, saying they could face legal action under the Goa Registration of Tourism Trade Act 1982.

“It has been brought to the notice of the undersigned that some hoteliers have been found charging their tariff more than what is approved by the Prescribed Authority/Director of Tourism, Government of Goa,” the official statement said.

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