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The Russian lesson: How it all went wrong for Goa
February 26, 2010

The Russian lesson: How it all went wrong for Goa


26 February 2010


They are being called rude, offensive and arrogant. Ironically the term "our tourists" is also used to describe them.

For the first time in its history, Goa is experiencing clashes and increasing tensions between its tourists and its people. An analysis to find why this is happening reveals that Goa has brought it upon itself through decisions made by the tourism industry and the government coupled with the recent global economic circumstances.

"It started after the recession," tourism director Swapnil Naik said in retrospect. "There was a drop in sales of our tour packages at the world tourism fairs where Goa put up stalls. The tour operators slashed package rates, but the corresponding demand did not increase from countries such as the UK and Germany," he said.

"Russian tour operators, however, found it lucrative and bought up the packages. Consequently there was a high demand from Russia. Since the rates were slashed, lower income groups were able to afford a holiday and the tourist profile thus changed," Naik said.

The Russians started arriving in large numbers. The Goa holiday experience is being seen as a liberating factor for Russians, still haunted by a communist past that had enclosed them into a shell in their own country.

"Some of them have never stepped out of their country before. They didn't know that a world existed outside Russia. Most of the Russians from the lower classes are recent travellers. Many of them are from far-flung regions in their country. We have even had cases where people were surprised we didn't speak Russian," says Travel and Tourism Association of Goa vice president Ernest Dias, whose firm Sita Travels handles the largest number of Russian tourists coming to the state.

However, the hordes of Russians who have come to Goa has not translated into higher earnings for locals in the tourism industry.

While the Russians' penchant for splurging on sea food had brought a smile on the faces of shack owners in previous seasons, they were in a rude shock this time.

"I don't know if we can even call them tourists. We have had Russians coming to our shack. They bring their own fish and tiny prawns and ask us if we can clean and fry it for them. We've seen low-spending tourists before, but this is the first season, during which we are seeing standards drop to such a level," says Shack Owners Welfare Society vice president John Lobo.

"They go to wine stores, buy bottles of rum and soft drinks and conceal it in bags when they enter our shacks. If we tell them this is not allowed, they say they cannot understand English. If we point to bottles kept under the table, they deny its theirs. Once they leave the place, we find empty liquor bottles left behind," Lobo says.

"It's hard to arrive at a consensus with them if misunderstanding arises. Russians are arrogant. They don't listen and are ever ready to start a fight. It's scary," he added.

Inadvertently, the bulk of Russians have landed in Morjim, and their overwhelmingly large numbers have begun to intimidate the locals.

"The situation is such that we need an independent police station at Mandrem. This can take care of the coastal areas of Morjim and Arambol too. I don't believe the present police force in Pernem is sufficient to patrol the area with the increasing number of Russians," said Mandrem legislator Laxmikant Parsekar.

"We get what we ask for. This is how we have projected Goa and this is what we have got," said convenor of the 200-member Federation of Small, Medium Hotels and Guest Houses Serafino Cotta.

"When we market Goa abroad, we have to make it known what we are and what we are looking for. If you say Goa is all about fun and going wild, where everything goes, you're going to attract the wrong kind of tourists. You have to make it known what is tolerated and what is not tolerated here. My British clients already tell me that Goa is known as a place where one can drive a motorcycle without a license. Our weak law enforcing system is already famous," Cotta said.

"If you tell people your hotel organizes Indian classical music in the evenings, those are the type of people who will turn up at the event. It's common marketing sense," he added.

Dias said the state needs to re-think its branding. "Goa should avoid getting into a vicious circle and get away from attracting the riff-raff type of tourists. We need to learn from this and target the middle and richer classes," Cotta said.

Tourism minister Francisco 'Mickky' Pacheco however differs in his views. "We cannot ask tourists to show us their bank balances before issuing a tourist visa, as is done in western countries. India is a third-world country. We cannot afford to distinguish between rich and poor, but accept all kinds of tourists," Pacheco said.