Goa's reputation as a tourist destination took a bit of a hit earlier this week after graphic videos of the violent confrontation between guests of an Anjuna hotel Spazio Leisure and a group of locals went viral on social media platforms. The guests, a family based in Delhi, uploaded the videos exhorting people not to visit the 'unsafe tourist destination' but a fair review of the chain of events indicates culpability on both sides: It indeed takes two hands to clap. But taking law into your own hands and violence of any sort is not condonable. The law should indeed take its course, nonetheless, The Goan dives into the issue to assess the damage to the brand Goa, if any, and ascertain the reaction of players in the tourism sector.
Anjuna violence: Brand Goa hit, but all not lost
The argument that adverse media coverage will affect Goa's tourism brand and effectively reduce footfalls is not new. It is an argument that routinely surfaces whenever any incident takes place of the type that occurred in Anjuna where a skirmish between a Delhi tourist family and a local hotel employee snowballed into a violent and murderous assault on the visitors.
The wide national, and sometimes international, media coverage of such incidents and others related to Goa tourism's dark underbelly -- narco-tourism, flesh trade et al -- also often evokes an outlandish official reaction from the government that it is meant to defame Goa, driven by the industry in competing destinations.
The fact of the matter is that it is not smoke without fire. There has been an incident. Two people were murderously assaulted with deadly weapons and they did suffer grievous injuries. A cop has been suspended, rightly or wrongly is a debate that will never end. The law, will or may not take a righteous course. And, tourism and life may go on, but stakeholders believe that the government and administration must pull up their socks to ensure the response is immediate and action is prompt.
Locals v/s tourists angle
The action, reaction quotient and the consequent locals versus tourists (outsiders or 'baile') narrative which played out in the mainstream and social media following the Anjuna incident is a worrisome angle and has the potential of putting off future visitors, many in the tourism industry admit.
"At all costs, we must strive to preserve Goa's reputation as a safe family destination," said Nilesh Shah, who heads the tourism industry's policy lobbying body Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG).
Shah said it is important to acknowledge that it is not the beaches and natural beauty alone which are responsible to build Goa's tourism brand over the decades but the local population, culture and the ingrained hospitality of Goans which have also played an immense part.
"The local culture and Goa's people, their nature and the ingrained hospitality too are crucial components. Damage to this Goan ethos has to be avoided at all costs. The role of the government, particularly the law enforcement agencies, is, therefore, crucial to handle such situations through prompt action," Shah said.
Others, including former legislator and commentator, Radharao Gracias, are not convinced by the one-sided narrative of the Delhi tourists.
"It has come to light that they were misbehaving at the poolside and brutally assaulted the local (hotel employee) who was designated by the hotel to inform them to behave. The regrouping and subsequent assault is an expected reaction," Gracias said in a video statement for a media outlet.
Gracias, who is a lawyer of repute, practising criminal law, also said that the action of the tourists who provoked the attack is also a crime.
"The police have to take cognisance of it and book an FIR against them (tourists) too," Gracias added.
Bad press does affect brand Goa
Be it the Anjuna type incidences, murders like in the Phogat case or incidents like the Scarlette Keeling incident some 15 years ago, the bad press that follows nationally and internationally does affect the brand Goa and its reputation as a safe tourism destination, Shah and other industry players admit.
"There is stiff competition. There are reports that tourists are exploring other beach destinations and moving up north in the Sindhudurg and Malwan regions. It is imperative that these law-and-order issues are dealt with an iron hand and promptly to limit the damage," said Shah.
He also said that disciplining tourists is also important and the authorities must step in to erase the narrative that in Goa everything goes (kuch bhi chalta hai).
Tourist police, 'beach vigil' app lost steam?
Some time ago, the government had shown urgency in introducing some public order at tourist spots and even introduced the 'beach vigil' app monitored by the tourism department to tackle irritants like indisciplined and uncivilised behaviour of tourists like drinking and cooking in public, littered trash and touts pestering tourists.
Meant to coordinate the responses of the regular police, tourist police, Drishti, shack operators and even panchayats, the app was launched with much fanfare at the State Secretariat by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant and Tourism Minister Rohan Khaunte. A couple of months later, there are no signs of coordination, if any, between these multiple local agencies.
Sawant and Khaunte had claimed that it would help improve services in the tourism sector but Shah seems to believe that the initial enthusiasm has died out.
Tighten rules in tourism industry
The proliferation of the number of players in a range of tourism-related businesses requires a strong regime of rules and regulations to instil discipline, the TTAG has constantly argued.
Impromptu and unorganised (informal) operations, be it in watersports, hotel (accommodation) or restaurant verticals of the tourism business lead to a lopsided playing field posing a huge disadvantage to the formal sector, TTAG said.
Take for instance the question of sound restrictions after 10 pm. According to Shah, the hotel industry is happy to follow the law laid down.
"But the difficulty comes when informal businesses break the law and get away with it, which affects businesses which are formal and long-term players," Shah said and argued that new ideas and proposals of the government to streamline the sector must be followed through.
"The government must be firm. Local politics should not be allowed to interfere in the implementation of any new proposals to bring some order to the industry. The effort to streamline watersports activity, which is an offshoot of a court direction, has to be seen through. Whatever objections that are being raised to the queue system, rightly or wrongly, have to be examined quick decisions taken to resolve them," the TTAG president said.