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Monday, November 23, 2020

Explained: Here’s how Goa’s beach shack tourist economy works

The bulk of Goa’s average annual 7.8 million tourists head to the coastal belts, and beach shacks are considered to be a major attraction. This year, however, the Covid-19 pandemic presents unusual uncertainties and challenges.

Written by Smita Nair , Edited by Explained Desk | Panaji | Updated: October 28, 2020 8:49:00 am
There are two kinds of shacks in Goa. One is a temporary shack — allowed to be erected on the beachfront, for the peak season between September and May, with conditions to dismantle it by June. (Express Photo/Aaron Pereira)

Earlier this week, the Goa Tourism Department started the annual exercise of demarcating beach shacks.

The bulk of Goa’s average annual 7.8 million tourists head to the coastal belts, and beach shacks are considered to be a major attraction. This year, however, the Covid-19 pandemic presents unusual uncertainties and challenges.

How many shacks does Goa allow on the beach front?

There are two kinds of shacks in Goa. One is a temporary shack — allowed to be erected on the beachfront, for the peak season between September and May, with conditions to dismantle it by June.

Usually not bigger than 18 m by 8 m in size, all the temporary beach shacks are on licence, and are allotted by draw of lots.

There are 259 licences available for North Goa beaches, and 108 licences for South Goa beaches. Each licence makes for one shack. Of these, Calangute beach alone takes a large chunk of 100 beach shack allocations. In the South, Majorda beach is allotted the most.

The permanent shacks are those which are not on the beach but at a distance on the land side; they are leased or owned out of privately owned land; they too face the sea front, and have licences for five years.

Both kinds of shacks operate according to rules set by Department of Tourism and the Goa Tourism Shack Policy, which gets updated every three years. Currently the one running is the Goa Tourism Shack Policy 2019-2020; this is the second year of the policy. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

What are the conditions for getting a licence?

Licences are allotted based on categories of experience — which means 90 per cent are allotted to those that have an experience of serving chilled beer and local catch — and having run a shack for a minimum of three years.

The remaining 10 per cent are reserved for new entrants in the market. Once allotted, the shack has to be erected within a month, using eco-friendly material such as bamboo and wooden poles, with thatched palm leaves. At the end of the season, the owners are expected to clean the surface of everything, including disconnecting the temporary electricity and water supply.

One condition — for the benefit of the tourist — is that printed bills are to be given to customer, for food and drinks. Any overcharging beyond the printed bill can invite suspension of the licence.

There are also rules for beach beds and beach umbrellas — each shack can have not more than 20, and they come with a fee.

How are the regulations enforced?

The idea is to ensure that patrons are not disturbed or harmed while they laze in the shack or on the beach decks.

The Tourist Police, wardens, and flying squads constantly monitor the beachfront, often in plain clothes, for “hawkers, masseurs, vagabonds, and peddlers of banned substances”. So if someone offers you contraband, please remember before giving in to temptation that it is illegal, and a law enforcement squad may be watching you.

Drinking in the open on the beach is also not allowed, and offenders are fined. So holidaymakers must have their beer or other spirits either inside a shack or in the designated area under a beach umbrella.

Drishti Lifeguards, the official lifeguards across beachfronts, have found that the largest numbers of drowning cases are of those who venture drunk into the sea. Hookahs and pool tables are a no-no.

What is the fee structure for the licences?

Depending on the beach and the experience category, the licence fee can vary between Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh in the first year for Category A; and between Rs 75,000 and Rs 1 lakh for Category B in the third year. The licence fee for a shack goes up by 10 per cent every year for three years.

Category A are beaches are the most popular, and see footfall in lakhs. Cavellosim in South Goa does not have high footfall, but it has several five-star hotels, and thus comes in Category A.

Due to the pandemic, shack owners have managed to get a 50 per cent waiver on the licence fee for this year. But this is not enough, they say, and the shacks are now on “survival mode”.

When are the shacks likely to be finally ready?

Not before November 1 — as it takes 10 to 15 days to get one standing, with all facilities. The market is so competitive that often the deciding factor between two shacks are not just the food and drinks, but also a clean toilet. Shack owners say women are always the “decision makers” in a big group, and a clean toilet is a priority with them.

Cruz Cardozo, president of the Goa Shack Owners’ Welfare Society, an umbrella body of shack owners, said the season usually begins on September 20, by when the shacks have been erected — but this year, the business would lose about a month and a half, along with the festive crowd of Dussehra.

What are the economics of running a shack in the middle of a pandemic?

This year, shack owners are hoping that an average family of four runs up a bill of between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,500, and an average couple, perhaps Rs 1,000.

“Of all those who have got the licences, we are looking at only 40 per cent opening at the earliest. Earlier, the shacks would take less than a week from the day of getting the licence. Now, no one seems to be in the mood, things are that bad. Many migrant workers were in the shacks for two months into the lockdown, and now we are all buying flight tickets for them to get back,” Cardozo said.

In general, Cardozo said, 100 people walking in only for drinks will not generate a profit for a shack, while 10 families who generate decent food bills will allow it to break even.

“We hope everyone eats, because our margins are in seafood,” Cardozo said. Efforts are on to put king fish, lobster and crab on the menu, considered to be the main shack bites.

“There is a general misconception which we have been fighting for years — and that is, shacks are designed for Russians or foreign tourists. But our studies show that it is the Indian domestic tourist who helps us to survive. We put in Rs 5 lakh every year to make the shack the best experience — we are hoping this Diwali will be like our Christmas and New Year, as domestic tourists will prefer to be in India and not go abroad,” he said.

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