Russia keen on image make-over in Goa

Panaji, May 20 (IANS) Russian authorities are keen on an image make-over for Russians in Goa, an official said here Monday after they have been in news for all the wrong reasons, ranging from mafia links, drugs and conflicts with locals.

The number of Russian tourist arrivals in Goa could soon touch 200,000 annually, the newly-appointed Russian honorary consul in Goa, Victor Albuquerque, told reporters.

Asked if he could categorically confirm or deny whether Russian mafia was present in Goa, known to attract 125,000 Russian tourists annually, Albuquerque did neither.

He instead said: “There is mafia in tourism everywhere. The Indian mafia also operates in Pakistan. You don’t have to be from a place to run a mafia.”

Albuquerque, a reputed businessman in Goa, was speaking to reporters in his first media conference after being appointed to act as a first point of assistance to the thousands of Russian tourists who have been flocking to Goa.

“We are somewhere at the top of the charter tourism curve… We would reach the top,” Albuquerque said.

Albuquerque said that an effort would be made by his office, to reach out to the Goan community by introducing Russian cultural events in the state, which attracted 125,000 Russians from October 2012 to March 2013.

“We will be having some cultural events in Goa, including folk dances and singing. Russia has a deep culture, which Goans should know about,” Albuquerque said.

The official said that the consulate in Goa would also help boost the number of Russian tourists to the state, to an even higher number, because of the confidence a consular office is likely to generate in Goa.

“Earlier, for every issue they had to get in touch with the Russian consulate in Mumbai. Now they do not have to. Also most Russians do not speak English, which was a big hindrance for them if they were in trouble. The consulate will have a Russian speaking person available to learn their problems first hand,” Albuquerque said.

He said that most Russian tourists were not really keen on heritage tourism and were more content on having a blast during their vacations by resting and drinking.

“They are spenders. They like to eat, drink vodka, which is cheaper than what they get (back in Russia),” Albuquerque said.

Goa has emerged as a major Russian tourism destination for the last five years emerging as a top region as far as tourist arrival figures are concerned.

The increase in Russian tourists has, however, also resulted in the Russian mafia involving itself in the real estate as well as tourism industry, a fact which is being probed by the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED). The latter has already red-flagged several real estate deals along the state’s coastline.

In recent times, attempts made by Russian nationals to illegally start businesses in Goa, while still on tourist visas had resulted in conflicts between them and the local population, especially in the Morjim village, 40 km from here, which is a favoured destination for Russians.

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