Goa: Death of a destination

| NOVEMBER 17, 2012, 11:42 AM IST

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

Tourists still come to Goa, not because of what it does forthem but despite it. And this is purely and only due to three reasons. Theextent of Goa’s mismanagement and lack of planning is not common knowledge, thesheer beauty of the land that still dominates the spate of constructions andthe 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 whatyou get in the cities and one tenth of what you pay abroad.

But what has got Goa down, are the more visible warts, whichspoil holidays. The greatest USP of a beachside tourist destination is to beable to spend time doing what you feel like. Goa’s taxi drivers are taking awaysimple pleasures by their boorish and criminal behaviour. The Goan, right fromits first edition has been clear, even at the cost of receiving abuses, threatsand the usual muscle flexing that is associated with village goonda when theiractions are challenged or questioned, that intimidating and threateningtourists will not be tolerated. There is no debate or discussion in this. Thefrustration of not getting enough business, because no one will succumb toextortion in the garb of taxi fares, cannot be reason to take out your ire ontourists.

Last week, a tourist was molested by a taxi driver in Bagaand in South Goa  and there was a majoraltercation between tourists operators and taxi drivers in South Goa with thehapless tourists caught in the middle of a battle they know little about butfind their movements curbed and safety compromised. The underlying issue inboth these cases is that tourists feel threatened and unsure and this is a surecase to drive them away. You can have the best infrastructure in the world to makeGoa 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 shouldbe forced to. The crux of the problem lies with law makers who are elected tomake systems. They don’t. We saw the shameless sight of the Benaulim MLA CaituSilva entering  a standoff meetingbetween tour operators and the collector South Goa to declare that “noinjustice to local taxi drivers will be tolerated”. What about injustice totourists who bring in revenue that feeds most of his voters? Justice can bedemanded when justice is given. Let taxi drivers start by giving justice byinstalling taxi meters and charge according to it. To begin with let them givejustice by accepting pre-fixed rates, which will be displayed at hotelcounters, to be paid by tourists at the counter itself. And finally, let themgive justice by not molesting women tourists and beating others across bothgenders.

However, these are not isolated warts and they continue tofester 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 andpunishment, both civil and criminal, for non-compliance. This government shoulddo what needed to be done long ago – Formulate a watertight policy, constitutea tourism board handpicked with the choicest professionals from the country, oreven abroad, and let it run all functions of tourism. This board can have afull-fledged tourist police working under it in close coordination with thestate police.

Only then will we not have the adhocism and ambiguity thatsurrounds every aspect of tourism from the allotments of shacks, regulating thefunctioning 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 StateInfrastructure Development Corporation to allocate plans and budgets fortourism specific development. For instance, 12 five star hotels have beenplanned in Goa and the tourism minister says “It is up to the centre to decideon giving five star status. The department has nothing to do with this.” DilipParulekar should willingly surrender himself to a policy that takes suchheadaches away from him because he is clearly out of his depth. Parulekar is abeneficiary of a glorious Goan tradition of allocating the most importanttourism portfolio to MLAs with a domain knowledge no larger theirvillages. 

With a board in place, ministers can limit themselves to reviewingthe work of the board and offer suggestions. Currently local MLAs andsarpanches decide on NOCs, which are given on extra considerations. A board isexpected to being in a system where hotels, water sports operators and otherstakeholders 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 atthe altar of votes because a Caitu Silva’s need to be an MLA is greater thanthe sum total of revenues Goa will get if it conducts tourism professionally.

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