Russian tourist charter operators have expressed interest in flight landing slots at Goa's Dabolim International Airport, for the upcoming tourism season, Ports Minister Michael Lobo said on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters at the state secretariat after a meeting with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, Lobo said that no new offshore casino vessel was expected to anchor in the state's Mandovi river for the next two years, on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has punctured travel and leisure tourism activity.
"We are expecting chartered flights from the rest of Europe too. But Russian (charter operators) have asked for slots for landing in Goa. We welcome this interest, but we need a green signal from the Centre," Lobo said.
Russian travellers account for the largest chunk of foreign tourists to Goa, a popular beach and nightlife tourism destination, followed by the UK. More than 92,000 Russian tourists landed in Goa during the 2018-19 tourism season (from October 2018 to March 2019), out of the half million foreigners who visited the coastal state. In Goa, nearly eight lakh tourists (both international and domestic) visited the state in 2019.
Lobo said that the resumption of international charter flights required a nod from the Union Civil Aviation Ministry as well as the state government.
"We have discussed with the Chief Minister about this issue. The Centre is likely to give a signal to tentatively start international charter flights from November from Russia to Goa. After that, the state government will have to grant permission," Lobo said.
He added that while the hotel and the tourism industry in the state was keen on resumption of offshore casinos -- major drivers of tourist traffic and hotel occupancy -- in the state, there was little likelihood of any new offshore casino operation setting up shop in the state at least for the next two years.
"The question of a seventh offshore casino does not arise. We currently have six offshore casinos. In this pandemic, I don't think anyone would want to bring in a (casino) boat over the next two years," said the Ports Minister, whose department deals with granting of permissions for anchoring offshore casino vessels in the Mandovi river.
The state currently has six operational offshore casinos anchored in the Mandovi river off Panaji and around ten onshore casinos, which operate from the numerous five-star resorts that dot the coastal state.
All casino operations in Goa, however, are non functional, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.