Goa: First charter flight of foreign tourists arrives after almost 22 months

After a gap of almost 22 months, Goa received its first batch of 159 foreign tourists who arrived in the state on a special charter flight from Almaty, Kazakhstan amid growing cases of the Omicron

Goa: First charter flight of foreign tourists arrives after almost 22 months
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Aditya Anand

After a gap of almost 22 months, Goa received its first batch of 159 foreign tourists who arrived in the state on a special charter flight from Almaty, Kazakhstan amid growing cases of the Omicron variant across the world, including India.

The last charter flight to Goa had arrived in March 2020, after which all charter operations were cancelled in the wake of the growing pandemic worldwide. On Wednesday, the arriving tourists were welcomed by a live music performance and a cake-cutting ceremony held at the airport.

Kazakhstan, a country not on the ‘at-risk’ nations list is a new and unexplored market for the Goa tourism industry, with no charter flights being ever operated in the past. All the arriving tourists were subject to a test at the airport and only those found positive for COVID-19 would have to undergo quarantine.

After the Central government allowed the landing of charter flights at Goa’s only airport from November 15, interest of international charter companies has slowly started picking up. The Air Asthana flight landed at Dabolim International Airport at 7 a.m., according to Caper Travels, which arranged the charter flight from Kazakhstan.

For the arriving tourists, Goa offers a huge difference in the weather conditions of 23 degrees Celsius here as against -6 degrees Celsius in Almaty, Kazakhstan along with the sun, sand and the seas.

The second flight will arrive on Thursday, December 16, and the third flight will arrive on Saturday, December 18. Air Asthana is operating for the first time in Goa's tourism history, and will have two flights flying every week on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday till the end of March 2022.

The tourism season in Goa begins from October and lasts till May each year, with Russia and the UK are top source markets for Goa tourism. The Scandinavian countries account for nearly 10% of total charter arrivals each season. This year, amid the Omicron scare in the UK, TUI, one of the largest charter operators in the UK-Goa charter sector, is learnt to have postponed flight operations.


Abida Kumar of Minar Travels, a charter operator in Goa reveals that all the 22 charter flights from the UK were cancelled. “Goa had just started to do well in the tourism industry. I don’t know what will happen in the near future. The Russian market is very slow and we are getting just two or three bookings a day. It used to be around 30 a day when the situation was normal. It does not look good for us. It is so frustrating this variant has to come now,” she says.

With the tourism industry just beginning to see revival with the arrival of domestic tourists during the festive season starting with Diwali, the charter flights were another ray of hope of the sector recovering the losses of the past two seasons and getting business back on the track.

For Goa, December is the time for the largest inflow of tourists. According to the industry, despite the charter flights making a beginning, the numbers were still expected to fall short of what has been seen in the previous years.

Travel and Tourism Association of Goa President Nilesh Shah says that Goa used to receive over 1,000 chartered flights during the tourist season. “Even if at least half of the chartered flights arrive in the coastal state this tourist season, the tourism business will rebound,” Shah believes. While Goa tourism is all set to receive foreign and domestic tourists, the new Omicron variant scare spreading to 61 countries, is something the stakeholders have to be mindful of as the local economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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