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Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Goa’s tourism sector wants state to plan ahead to sustain visitor flow

Goa's tourism industry lacks policy and stakeholders want the government to come clean on what plans it has for what is now the backbone of the state's economy.

Written by Aaron Pereira | Benaulim | Updated: April 22, 2019 8:10:10 pm
Goa tourism policy, goa beaches, goa hotel industry, goa hotels, goa elections, lok sabha elections 2019, decision 2019 Despite being India’s top tourist destination, the state lacks a tourism policy. Beach beds along the Benaulim beach. Express Photo/Aaron Pereira

Drive through South Goa’s coastal belt and you will come across ‘Martin’s Corner’. Located a few metres down ‘Sunset beach’ in Betalbatim, this Goan cuisine restaurant is known globally with clientele including the Clintons, the Bachchans and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar who even has his favourite seafood dishes — crab and prawn caldine — delivered to Mumbai.

While business is good at the moment, propreitor Bonny Pereira, who now runs the 30-year-old restaurant, asks why the government doesn’t have a concrete policy for the future. “We are not thinking about the next decade. We keep saying Goa is a tourism destination, but what is our plan? Where is the policy?” he asks.

The state government had, in November last year, made public for comments a draft Tourism Policy and Masterplan drafted by KPMG Advisory Services and Tourism and Leisure Advisory Services.

Activists and a section of those working in the tourism industry criticised the draft saying there was little in it for small-scale restauranteurs and businesses while huge private players were likely to benefit from the plan they say has been drafted by experts without consulting locals.

Calangute MLA and Deputy Speaker Michael Lobo termed the draft plan a waste of public money. “We were not taken into confidence. If need be, the government should prepare another master plan since stakeholders have not been consulted,” he told reporters in January this year. The ‘25-year-vision plan’ cost the government Rs 5 crore. Goa’s tourism industry contributes about 40 per cent to the state’s GDP and has been the focus now that mining in the state has been banned for over a year.

Goa tourism policy, goa beaches, goa hotel industry, goa hotels, goa elections, lok sabha elections 2019, decision 2019 Martin’s corner in Betalbatim is one of Goa’s most famous restaurants. Express Photo by Aaron Pereira

Pereira says the state needs a policy keeping in mind Goa’s unique culture and it cannot be one that is universally implemented across the country. “We are still implementing Acts from other states. We need to draw up legislation based on how tourism is in our state. We have a different kind of tourist and for that we need to think differently,” he says, adding that Goa’s current plan is only focused on casinos.

Pereira’s views seem to resonate across restaurant owners in the southern belt who choose to keep their tourism offerings different from that in the north — a nightclub focused model.

Thomas Fernandes, who owns Pedros on Benaulim beach, says the only way to ensure a stable flow is to build supporting infrastructure. “Which beach in Goa has a dedicated parking zone? Where in Goa do we have amusement parks for children? We need to think ahead and plan if we want tourism to continue in the state,” he says, adding that ‘clean tourism’ has to be the focus of the government and not haphazard development.

“We want more tourists so we put up more beachbeds and shacks. Where are people supposed to walk? Why will they come back if you don’t respect them?” he adds.

Matthew Diniz, who runs Kentuckee restaurant on Colva beach, concurs. “Look at any tourist destination in Europe and see what they have to offer. It’s planned tourism that strikes a balance between the business and the tourist. We seem to be a hundred years backward with our planning and if we don’t change our policies we should be prepared to switch industries,” he says.

Model Code of Conduct impacting business

Goa tourism policy, goa beaches, goa hotel industry, goa hotels, goa elections, lok sabha elections 2019, decision 2019 A no-alcohol sign put up by Kentuckee restaurant along Colva beach. Express Photo by Aaron Pereira

The tourist belt has also been asking the Election Commission to relax the Model Code of Conduct rules in the state saying it has had an impact on their business. A decision is likely after the April 23 voting.

“It’s not just about the rules but the way it is implemented. Officials cannot just barge into a restaurant and take a glass from customers assuming they are consuming alcohol. There has to be a better way to do this than to insult our guests,” Diniz says.

With the MCC enforced, restaurants in the state have to shut by 11 pm and cannot serve alcohol post 10 pm. While the rules were in place earlier, this election has seen strict implementation.

“Have rules, we do not have a problem with them but make sure they are logical. In a tourism-driven state, how can we have these restrictions for over two months? Why do we need it post the voting?” Pereira asks.

Goa votes on April 23 for the Lok Sabha elections as well as three Assembly constituencies. The Assembly constituency of Panaji, vacant following the death of chief minister Manohar Parrikar, will vote on May 19.

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