Panaji: The Goa tourism industry has welcomed the central government`s decision to relax tourist visa norms which some organisations here had maintained were squelching tourism prospects in the sunny beach state.
Ralph de Souza, spokesperson for the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG), said the decision to allow multiple entry on a tourist visa and a stay in India for 180 days, spread over a year, was just what the doctor ordered as far as attracting repeat European tourists was concerned.
"This is an excellent move by the Indian government. We welcome the decision wholeheartedly. It will be extremely beneficial to Goa and the tourism industry as well as allied industries in particular," de Souza told a news agency.
"Goa has an enviable record of over 40 percent repeat clientele, one of the highest in the world, and often visitors come two or even three times in the same season," he added.
Ever since hippies put Goa on the international tourism map, the state has been a popular holiday destination for European travellers looking for a spot of sun in the months of October-February, when the winter is at its fiercest best there.
Over the years, ageing retirees from countries like Britain and Germany travelling to Goa by charter flights, have added themselves to backpackers and low-end budget tourists, who have been visiting the state over decades now.
"Additionally, because of Goa`s branding as a long haul winter destination, thousands of visitors, most of them quiet, older retirees, made it their practice not only to come back each year, but also to stay here for the entire six months of the northern winter. Many others stayed in Goa year on year with trips out of Goa from time to time only to renew visa stays," de Souza said.
Stringent tourist visa norms in the light of the 26/11 terror attacks, which forced foreign tourists to take a two-month cooling period before re-entering the country, were seen as a setback by the tourism industry in Goa.
According to de Souza, who also heads the Goa unit of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the new amendment will ensure that the sun will shine back on Goa`s tourism prospects.
"These long-stay visitors had been affected severely by the visa policy. The new revised policy which allows visitors a one-year multiple entry visa will make it easier for visitors to continue their stay for longer periods," he said.
Goa annually attracts 2.6 million tourists, nearly half a million of which are foreigners.