Relations between India and Russia have soured as many Russian tourists find themselves being rejected from the once loved vacation destinations on the Indian Sea coast. When the number of British tourists visiting Goa initially started to drop about five years ago, hotel companies and taxi drivers were thrilled at the surge in Russian tourism. Things have changed dramatically over the past few years however.
Many Indians working in the tourist industry have complained of Russian companies coming to Goa and setting up illegal tourism operations. Frustration peaked last week when a vehicle operated by an illegal Russian operator was stopped in Northern Goa. Another two buses were stopped over the weekend and all of the Russian and Estonian tourists were taken to a local police station after taxi drivers forced the buses to stop.
A member of the Travel and Tourism Association Group (TTAG) acknowledged that illegal Russian operators are a problem in Goa but warned that taxi drivers should not be taking matters into their own hands.
The new Russian Information Center’s director Ekaterina Belyakova believes that a solution can be found if all of the members of the tourism community can get conversations moving forward. She believes that India would not be so fast in rejecting Russian operators and tourists if a good line of communication could be established.
Belyakova believes that a big part of the problem lies within the language barrier. She says that most Russians do not speak English and very few Indians speak Russian, so problems quickly ensue.
On top of the economic issues created by illegal tourism operations, Belyakova notes that there has simply been many cross-cultural misunderstands. According to her, a great deal of progress has been made since the Russian Information Center opened one month ago.
According to Belyakova, many Russian-speaking tourists who visit Goa simply lack awareness on the local laws and cultural norms. Because communication between Russian tourists and locals is often impossible, many things simply remain a mystery.
The North Goa Tourist Taxi Association (NGTTA) has also acknowledged the problem. Their General Secretary Vinayak Nanoskar has admitted that many local drivers have actually helped Russian operators setup illegal businesses in and around Goa. However, he also stressed the fact that the Indian government must be involved to find solutions to the problem.
The recent cancellation of the annual Indo-Russian music festival has been a cause of particular strain between Russia and India. The Russian Deputy Consul in Mumbai Alexey Mzareulov said that Goa has basically refused money from Russian tourists by cancelling the event.
According to Mzareulov, the cancellation has caused a major stain in the already tense relationship between the countries and the 250,000 Russian tourists currently in Goa. He spoke about the issue at a recent press conference in Panaji and called the decision downright scandalous.
Mzareulov says the Indo-Russian music festival, which was to be held January 31- February 1, may be rescheduled and held in Thailand this year. He believes this will not only send a negative message to would-be Russian tourists but also hurt Indians who depend on the income generated through tourism. He believes that by rejecting Russian tourists, both countries can be only harmed.
By Nicci Mende