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Goa: Death of a destination

  17 November 2012

Goa is on the cusp of losing its charm as a tourism destination in an absolute non reversible way. From the ugly warts that are visible, to the deeper wounds of an infrastructure and planning collapse, Goa has managed the impossible – Botching up a God given natural destination.

Tourists still come to Goa, not because of what it does for them but despite it. And this is purely and only due to three reasons. The extent of Goa’s mismanagement and lack of planning is not common knowledge, the sheer beauty of the land that still dominates the spate of constructions and the rampant alteration of the skyline and most importantly, the dollar, euro, pound and even the rupee lasts much longer. The cost of a meal is half of what you get in the cities and one tenth of what you pay abroad.

But what has got Goa down, are the more visible warts, which spoil holidays. The greatest USP of a beachside tourist destination is to be able to spend time doing what you feel like. Goa’s taxi drivers are taking away simple pleasures by their boorish and criminal behaviour. The Goan, right from its first edition has been clear, even at the cost of receiving abuses, threats and the usual muscle flexing that is associated with village goonda when their actions are challenged or questioned, that intimidating and threatening tourists will not be tolerated. There is no debate or discussion in this. The frustration of not getting enough business, because no one will succumb to extortion in the garb of taxi fares, cannot be reason to take out your ire on tourists.

Last week, a tourist was molested by a taxi driver in Baga and in South Goa  and there was a major altercation between tourists operators and taxi drivers in South Goa with the hapless tourists caught in the middle of a battle they know little about but find their movements curbed and safety compromised. The underlying issue in both these cases is that tourists feel threatened and unsure and this is a sure case to drive them away. You can have the best infrastructure in the world to make Goa an ideal getaway but no tourist will land on its shores to get molested, raped or beaten up. If the taxi gangs of Xaxtipur can’t get that, they should be forced to. The crux of the problem lies with law makers who are elected to make systems. They don’t. We saw the shameless sight of the Benaulim MLA Caitu Silva entering  a standoff meeting between tour operators and the collector South Goa to declare that “no injustice to local taxi drivers will be tolerated”. What about injustice to tourists who bring in revenue that feeds most of his voters? Justice can be demanded when justice is given. Let taxi drivers start by giving justice by installing taxi meters and charge according to it. To begin with let them give justice by accepting pre-fixed rates, which will be displayed at hotel counters, to be paid by tourists at the counter itself. And finally, let them give justice by not molesting women tourists and beating others across both genders.

However, these are not isolated warts and they continue to fester because of the larger issue of the absence of a tourism plan or policy, which encompasses rules and regulations with a clear road map of deterrence and punishment, both civil and criminal, for non-compliance. This government should do what needed to be done long ago – Formulate a watertight policy, constitute a tourism board handpicked with the choicest professionals from the country, or even abroad, and let it run all functions of tourism. This board can have a full-fledged tourist police working under it in close coordination with the state police.

Only then will we not have the adhocism and ambiguity that surrounds every aspect of tourism from the allotments of shacks, regulating the functioning of taxis and tour operators to larger issues of waste management, road network and the infrastructure.

The board in turn needs to work with the Goa State Infrastructure Development Corporation to allocate plans and budgets for tourism specific development. For instance, 12 five star hotels have been planned in Goa and the tourism minister says “It is up to the centre to decide on giving five star status. The department has nothing to do with this.” Dilip Parulekar should willingly surrender himself to a policy that takes such headaches away from him because he is clearly out of his depth. Parulekar is a beneficiary of a glorious Goan tradition of allocating the most important tourism portfolio to MLAs with a domain knowledge no larger their villages. 

With a board in place, ministers can limit themselves to reviewing the work of the board and offer suggestions. Currently local MLAs and sarpanches decide on NOCs, which are given on extra considerations. A board is expected to being in a system where hotels, water sports operators and other stakeholders get a level playing field and the state works on a  proper infrastructure plan.

The reality is that plans such as these will be discarded at the altar of votes because a Caitu Silva’s need to be an MLA is greater than the sum total of revenues Goa will get if it conducts tourism professionally.

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