Statistics from the Department of Tourism show an increase in the number of travel agents and tour operators in the state, with around 520 registered ones, and another 150 plus unregistered, luring travelers with lesser rates.
An official in the Department of Tourism told ‘The Navhind Times’ that the number of tour and travel operators is far bigger that the registered figure.
“We have quite many operators and their number increases every year. Unfortunately, many could be registered with the department, but are not registered as a result we are missing out on revenue from them,” the official wishing anonymity said.
Each registered tour operator pays around ` 10,000, plus municipal taxes and other fees every year, a move that brings in a lot of revenue to the government. When contacted, the president of the Tour and Travel Association of Goa (TTAG), Mr Francis Braganza said “it is difficult to quantify the number of unregistered tour operators as many private taxi owners have started functioning like tour operators.”
“They remain operational even when unregistered because the department hardly monitors them. The sector authority is yet to use an iron hand to ensure that all the tour and travel companies get registered and pay the yearly operational fees,” said another registered tour operator.
Some tour companies have started a new trend as money changers, which they say RBI is very much aware. Incidentally, this kind of adaptation is seen more commonly among proprietary and partnership forex establishments that have mushroomed along the coastal belt and major cities like Panaji, Margao and Vasco.
The registered tour operators have expressed concern over the increasing number of unregistered tour and travel agencies in the state.
Although it is written as travel agency on their sign boards, on newspaper advertisement the words: ‘government registered’ is not mentioned, said registered travel agents in Margao and Panaji.
Many travelers’ plans are going sour on account of these unregistered tour operators, who buy foreign currency from unlicensed money changers, a string of them can be seen from Candolim to Baga and in their new found destination — Panaji.
Unlike registered tour operators and licensed money changers where cross checks by RBI can be conducted, as they are fully KYC compliant, it is not so with unathorised tour operators who deal with the grey market money changers as they are bereft of receipts and transaction bills, said an official of a leading AD II category forex company based in Panaji on condition of anonymity.
The modus operandi followed by some tour companies, operating packaged tours at cheap fares is that they purchase foreign currency from the grey market in cash and use the same to purchase television sets, cameras and other gadgets from abroad at a cheaper rate and sell the same here in Goa while the cost price still remains lower than the market price.
Some even use this foreign currency to settle hotel bills and on ground expenses of a tour and which is not reflected in their books.
“There are no official records, which mean if tomorrow there is a complaint against them regarding overcharging or poor service, it is very difficult to locate them. This actually gives a bad name to the genuine travel agencies,” registered tour operators said. [NT]