Goa, the party capital of India, is recovering from the loss of international tourism

The Associated Press


GOA, India – The golden rays of the sun fall on the smooth, sandy beaches of Goa every evening, as usual magical but strangely calm and solitary. In this holiday season, some visitors are enjoying the famous sunset at the Indian party hotspot.

The fearful fear of the coronaviruses snatching Goa’s vibrant beaches and the noise of their lives.

A Portuguese colony until 1961, this western Indian state usually survives in December and January, with its tourism-led economy booming with chartered flights bringing in foreign travelers and holiday crowds.

In the past decade, Goa had transformed from a seasonal mecca for both hippie backpackers and wealthy wackers to a second domestic destination for India’s middle class. Construction was booming, increasing the impact on the fragile environment. Apartments by the sea, on the banks of the river, or surrounded by forests are in great demand.

The epidemic and ensuing travel restrictions have changed everything, possibly, forever.

Along with popular beaches in North Goa from Candolim to Calangute to Morjim, many landmark coffee shops, tattoo parlors and slum patches with sunbeds are permanently closed. Nightlife has died in the popular party hub.

Seema Rajgarh, 37, is a lonely figure on the almost deserted Uturda beach in South Goa, her blue sari set against the expanse of the Arabian Sea as she is fond of jewelry made of beads and stones. None of the handful of domestic tourists are interested in buying them.

On good days in the holiday season, the mother of three girls, who are not yet two years old, said she used to earn 2,000 rupees ($ 27).

Now, time is clouded.

“Some days, I barely earn 200 rupees ($ 2.7), not even enough to buy milk and food for my children,” she said.

Rajgarh’s husband, a cook, lost her job during a nationwide lockdown imposed in March to prevent the spread of coronovirus infection. He remains unemployed.

School fees are long for children. The fare is three months behind.

Rajgarh said, “This virus has destroyed our lives.”

In 2019, more than 8 million tourists visited Goa, including over 830 million foreign tourists. According to the state’s tourism department, some 800 chartered flights from Russia, Ukraine, Britain and Japan arrived in other countries.

As of August, only 1.1 million had visited, including just over 280,000 foreign tourists.

An official report on the impact of COVID-19 on Goa released in December estimates a loss of about $ 1 billion for the tourism industry due to the lockdown in April-May. Potential job losses are likely to range from 35% to 58%. More than one in three of Goa’s 1.6 million people work in tourism. Goa accounted for more than 51,000 of India’s over 10,000 reported coronovirus cases, with 749 deaths. The sluggish situation following the sudden disintegration of economic activity has prompted many business owners to abandon it.

Sitting at home during the lockdown last summer, designer Suman Bhat, whose luxury label “Sumanbi by Lola with its flowing silhouette is popular among Bollywood celebrities, struggles to close its flagship brand store in Panjim, Goa’s capital Slowdown in sales is waiting or waiting outside.

Bhat managed to retain his workers, but had to leave his beloved retail location in August to move to a less expensive one.

“It was a tough goodbye for me. You’ve put so much money into the business to create a customer experience – and that’s completely far from you. Now there is no way for anyone to see, touch and feel your product, ”she said.

Bhat says his workers are tired of the new routine of hygiene, testing and anxiety. The end of the epidemic is still not in sight, the future is uncertain.

“Can I have an evening to dress when there is no evening to go? Is it fair to ask people to give me that kind of money when everyone is trying to save?” He asked himself.

“Everyone is just tired. You don’t know when a worker will say he has a fever. What do you do? Closed everything? Tell everyone to be tested, sanitized and spray everything? You are in problem-solving mode all the time, ”she said.

A few months after the lockdown began, signs of life are appearing in Goa. At the end of the year, the influx of domestic tourists increased during the holidays. The casino has been reopened and, unlike most other Indian states, visitors are no longer required to show a negative coronovirus test report.

But things rarely get back to normal.

Yoga teacher Sharanya Narayanan is struggling to understand what she has lost.

In 2008, Narayanan came to Mumbai from Goa to do aerial acrobatics at a club in 2008 and stayed to make it his home.

She was teaching in many places, but had to go to virtual lessons during lockdown. When the wellness centers were allowed to reopen in August, only one of her jobs came back – her own private class.

“The epidemic has changed everyone’s lives – mine too,” she said.

“I miss the feeling of anonymity that I had previously enjoyed in Goa. Every time I did not have the same set of people to meet, it was always changing, so evolving so I was able to recreate myself without the feeling of being stable, ”she said. “It is the ephemeral nature of things that is so fascinating about Goa.”

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