TOURISM HAS become one of the most important economic activities in Goa thus providing gainful employment for thousands of people. The unique blend of eastern and western culture and its bountiful beauty has made Goa an international tourist destination ever since the first international tourist Vasco da Gama, set his foot on Goa’s soil.
Generally travellers/tourists do not seek the same place for long as they are always exploring new and better destinations. Hence, Goa should be ready for this eventuality and chart out its route. Therefore, to sustain tourism, all players concerned should work dedicatedly towards this goal, failing which we could very soon see the tourism bubble bursting. The ominous signs are already visible, which have accelerated with the global financial meltdown. My wish list for a sustained tourism industry is as below. This will encompass the ecological and the social factors and the involvement of government agencies to the hilt.
THOUGH there is a demand for additional rooms in the state, rampant construction activity could mar Goa’s beauty and, hence, we should plan our tourism expansion appropriately. We have seen that basic infrastructure is not keeping pace with development in the state. Our garbage treatment needs a total overhaul. Our electricity network is miserable and with frequent breakdowns in water supply, a lot of strain is put on the ground water. The sewage treatment facilities are absolutely inexistent except in cities resulting in contamination of ground water in most tourist areas. It is common to blame the hotels for the ills that affect Goa but if incentives are given to hoteliers to be more environmentally friendly, they would always answer the call. Tax benefits should be given to hoteliers who treat their own garbage and strict penalties should be imposed on errant hoteliers. Water harvesting technology should be encouraged and setting up of sewage treatment plants with financial grants be made compulsory to each and every hotel, big or small. With a clean and beautiful Goa, bereft of roadside garbage and leaking septic tanks, no tourist will have to be repeatedly cajoled into coming to Goa.
It is evident that vast tracts of paddy fields are left fallow by farmers due to non-viability of cultivation, finance or land reforms like land to the tiller Act. Fallow land could be put to good use. One option could be to use the same for fodder cultivation, which could benefit cattle and with this we could have a thriving dairy business and that too with organic fodder. We have a deficiency of two lakh litres of milk per day and the same is augmented by neighbouring Karnataka. If we encourage dairy farming, which I am sure any youth will be willing to undertake, we could have another economic activity for which a ready market is already available. Moreover, we could have lush green fields throughout the year.
We should also encourage hinterland tourism where our rich flora and fauna can be enjoyed by the tourists. This will result in more of our people benefiting from tourism. It will not be in our interest to only promote beach tourism exclusively, though they are our diamonds.
Goa was once famous for its vegetables like tambddi bajji (red spinach), mullo (raddish), vaingim (brinjals), etc which were grown in fields after the paddy crop was harvested. This has to be encouraged and the hoteliers should market such products by serving these as traditional dishes which will be relished as tourists are always eager to consume local products.
FOSAM has been quite consistently pursuing a policy on tourism which is called responsible tourism. This has to be encouraged and all players should be encouraged to achieve the goals set by FOSAM.
It has also been observed that tourism comprises of a peak season and an off season. During the off season our youth are jobless for almost five months of the year. The government must back the willing youth by providing them with alternate employment during the off season, in government or quasi-government agencies. This will cut down migration of our youth to other parts of the world for want of continuous employment.
We should not tolerate any activity that violates human dignity of anyone else, e.g. paedophilia, prostitution, sale and abuse of drugs and human trafficking in Goa. The image of Goa has taken a beating in the recent past with aberrations like the Scarlet Keeling murder. This bad publicity has to be reversed and to do so, the police have to take a pivotal role. Such cases, or for that matter any case, have to be immediately looked into transparently so that justice is meted out immediately. This could be facilitated if politicians do not interfere in the investigations and give the police a free hand to book the guilty.
IT is also a forgone conclusion that small and medium scale hoteliers are the highest revenue earners for our state. But, recently, they have found themselves in a financial mess with the global meltdown resulting in tourist cancellations. Most of them are catered to by the charter tourists and most charter guests do not pay luxury taxes as their package is inclusive of everything. Hence, the onus is on the hoteliers to fill up the tax vacuum. Hence, there should be no taxation on charter tourism on small and medium hotels at least for this year.
All unregulated letting of rooms have to be covered under the room availability count. This will help to counter the argument for requirement and construction of additional rooms. An increase in additional rooms will turn Goa into a concrete morass when, actually, there is no demand for additional rooms.
Rent back/time share schemes are a great leakage in revenue. Whilst providing the same services as hotels and by charging the tourists similar or higher rates on rooms and services, they do not pay similar electricity and water tariffs as other registered hoteliers. This results in loss of revenue to the government. This great scandal has to be plugged.
A tourism tribunal is the need of the hour to address grievances from service providers in the industry as well as complaints from civil society and, wherever necessary, provide a temporary resolution within 24 hours. All permissions for service providers should be given under a single window so that concerned persons do not have to run from pillar to post to get all the permissions.
These are just a few of my thoughts. However, the most important point is that since the government is a not only a partner but a facilitator of tourist activity, it should apply its mind to devise a long-term consolidated tourism policy keeping all stakeholders in mind, be it shack operators, taxi operators, hoteliers, travel agent and other service providers. This will help in resolving innumerable seasonal problems (like shacks and taxi operators’ disputes) which keep on recurring year after year resulting in hardships to our esteemed guests and financial and emotional instability to all service providers.
(Although the writer is the president of Federation of Small & Medium Hotels in Goa (FOSAM) and Vice president of Goa Hit Rakhan Manch (GHM), these are his personal views.)
By Serafino Cotta
Goan Observer, Panaji, January 17 - 23, 2009
Posted By : Serafino Cotta, South Goa, India on 22/01/2009