Goa airport nears record flights as tourism season picks up pace

The peak of Goa’s tourism is the week between Christmas and New Year when lakhs of travellers from across the country come to the state.

PANAJI: The Goa airport at Dabolim handled 101 departures on Sunday ahead of what is expected to be a jam-packed tourist season in the state in the days leading up to the new year.

“On December 18, Sunday Goa International Airport recorded 100 arrivals and 101 departures with a total passenger footfall of 31,965 (16046 arrivals and 15919 departures), the highest in recent times,” the Airports Authority of India said on Twitter.

Last year’s tourist season in Goa was blighted by the resurgence of the Omicron variant and there are hopes that tourism is back in a big way with numbers that are likely to surpass that of the pre-pandemic days.

“We have been seeing very good numbers so far this year and demand has been encouraging in the months so far. Five-star hotels have done very well and it has been very difficult to get a room in a five-star hotel in Goa, especially with weddings and other holidayers. This is all on account of tourists from within the country — Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and other cities,” Jack Sukhija, an owner of a medium-sized hotel and member of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG), a body of hotel and tour operator businesses, said.

“There is a lot of pent-up demand as well as revenge tourism and unlike last year, restrictions have been completely eased. Most medium hotels are also fully booked,” he added.

The peak of Goa’s tourism is the week between Christmas and New Year when lakhs of travellers from across the country come to the state.

The period also coincides with foreign tourist arrivals seeking to spend their days in sunny parts of the world away from the cold and wet winters of Europe.

Such is the demand to travel to Goa that even the Goa government has been finding it difficult to find rooms for guests at an event being hosted towards the end of December.

“We had an event coming up and it is very difficult to book rooms for our guests. Everything is fully booked,” an official for the state’s protocol department said.

Goa airport director S V T Dhanamjaya Rao said that the airport was expecting an increase in demand but was capable of handling it.

“On Sunday we witnessed 101 departures including non-scheduled flights, whether it will be higher than the previous record (102) we will be able to say only once it happens,” Rao said.

The previous record was set on January 2 this year, when 102 departures were recorded as tourists flew out of the state.

“Whatever requests for slots we have received, we have successfully processed them and even if there are more, there will be no issue in processing those requests as well. Outside of the peak hours, we will be able to handle the requests,” Rao said.

The airport handles the largest number of flights between 12:30pm and 2:30 pm in the hours immediately after the end of the Navy’s restrictions with landings and takeoffs taking place within minutes of each other.

Airfares to Goa have spiked three-fold for both the Christmas and New Year’s weekends and are expected to go higher as the date approaches.

TTAG president Nilesh Shah said that the tourism industry has seen “good demand across all verticals.”

“All categories of hotels have witnessed good bookings,” Shah said.

In the seven days between Christmas and New Year, Goa plays host to lakhs of tourists who also travel for events such as Sunburn, a popular dance music festival that is held in the days leading up to the New Year.

The state government estimates that Goa will this year receive more than 81 lakh tourists, breaching the previous record of 80 lakh sent in 2019 prior to the pandemic.

The Goa administration said it too was gearing up to tackle the ‘surge’.

“We are strengthening the deployment in coastal areas in the run-up to the new year and will also be making special arrangements for music festivals and other high footfall events. Yet we expect that there will be delays and slow-moving traffic, so visitors should come prepared and be willing to bear with us,” Director General of Police Jaspal Singh said.

North Goa superintendent of police Nidhin Valsan said that officers have been “well briefed and sensitised” and are prepared for the challenge.