Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has set an ambitious goal of 5.4 million tourists for the season 2015. The Minister for Tourism has announced that he would popularize medical tourism, and bring in a golf course in Tiracol. There has also been an announcement that Goa will jump into the ‘wedding tourism’ fray and that would bring us into competition with Caribbean destinations which have, so far, cornered this market. Cruise ships are also being hailed as the way to go in bringing in more tourist.
When the Chief Minister reaches his goal of 5.4 million tourists, has he paused to ponder the implications of his and his Minister’s coarse pronouncements? Does Goa have the carrying capacity? Even assuming that the government will invent ground-breaking schemes to broaden the scope of tourism- coastal and hinterland, how will all this happen in the next two years? Does Goa have the infrastructure and the personnel to administer this speedy expansion . Are there trained personnel who will assume function as hosts? Have the hinterlands been surveyed for their potential and to open up new arenas of tourism? Finally, does Goa have the carrying capacity for such a huge multiplication of tourists when even the current levels pose massive problems?
The issue is, what kind of tourism will Goa put on offer. The question is about quality- not just for the tourist. For the host too! And for the general populace who will have to bear the brunt of a tourist population who will number thrice the home population. There are other core considerations that must be deliberated on.
Multiple questions come to mind:Who will benefit from the tourism? How will the influx of tourists be organised in ways that will guarantee that the mafia, the traffickers, the drug dealers, and the sex deals do not slip in? How will Goa provide the skilled labour required in tourism without incentivised and adequate preparation of young Goan personnel through institutions that can build this required capacity? Or, does the government actually wish to compound the influx of skilled and unskilled workers from other parts of the country? Even from overseas?
Is Goa ready with the law and order and other security mechanisms required to manage the likely fallouts from unimpeded growth rates in tourism?
Has the government researched the options of creating and/or enhancing unique Goan-identity based products- locations, packages, and related items for tourist consumption such as crafts, foods, music, and other unique itineraries that would make Goa a ‘preferred destination’?
What marketing mechanism has the government in mind to put Goan tourism on the market? (Excluding the innumerable jaunts that the Tourism Minister and his entourage frequently take off on).
Is there so much as a thought given to how the various stakeholders in tourism will be linked in?
Will the recipients of tourism’s profits be equitably shared between the large scale and small and medium sectors? (Especially displaced coastal and other communities where the new tourism ventures will be installed). Have safety nets for the indigenous populations been assured? Or will they be displaced callously?
Have the risks pertinent to the competition of essential natural resources for local people and tourist demands been computed? Will the government, in particular, guarantee that the first benefits will reach the Goans and not investors from just about everywhere reap the harvest?
It is quite noticeable that very little thinking has gone behind this policy declaration.
The Golf courses in Tiracol is in the coastal belt. The direct impact will be displacement of the local villagers under the somewhat dubious argument that bigger benefits are coming their way. Surveys around the world have shown that, more often than not, the displaced people whose lives are quite stable usually, end up becoming security guards, cooks, and menial labour at resorts, hotels, and related facilities. The actual beneficiaries will be the real estate syndicates and politically connected individuals.
Goa’s hot climatic conditions during the season will mean high levels of water consumption by tourists and serious water shortages for the people in the vicinity. Studies indicate that tourists consume amounts of up to 440 litres a day on various activities. Golf courses deplete fresh water resources. If the water comes from wells, over-extraction can cause saline intrusion into groundwater. “An average golf course in a tropical country such as Thailand needs 1500kg of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides per year and uses as much water as 60,000 rural villagers says ‘Tourism Concern’ a UK-based tourism advocacy-research organization.
The human consequences are equally serious: Increases in local property values raises property prices beyond the reach of local people. It also promotes exclusivist enclaves by attracting higher-spending social groups and portraying elitist lifestyle.
Promoting cruise ships on the rivers and Mormugao as a port may, on the face of it, seem tangible economics. Let’s look at other risks involved. Cruise ships generate an astonishing amount of pollution: up to 25,000 gallons of sewage from toilets and 143,000 gallons of sewage from sinks, galleys and showers each day. Lax laws allow cruise ships to dump untreated sewage from toilets, once the ships are three miles from shore. Coastal environment and marine life are at risk from the threats of bacteria, pathogens and heavy metals generated in these waste streams. Oil, which is also released from cruise ships, is a highly toxic substance that does tremendous damage to marine life. Plastic bags, for example, can be mistaken for food and eaten by sea turtles. The plastic fills their stomachs and causes difficulty with digestion and loss of appetite. Since it provides no nourishment, plastic debris can lead to starvation.
Tourism needs a vision-method and a mechanism that ensures it stays rooted in the cultural particularities of Goa. Goa does not need to follow any Tourism policy must come from informed and concerned citizens drawn from various disciplines-- environmentalists, town planners, sociologist, anthropologists, artists, tourism activists, religious institutions, stakeholders of all varieties (especially the small and medium guest houses, taxi owners and drivers, shack owners), NGOs including women’s organizations, child rights activists, workers organizations/unions, hotels and resorts, tour operators, knowledgeable political persons who have a demonstrated commitment to responsible tourism, selected Panchayats, and, of course, the bureaucrats who have been assigned to plan and implement tourism policy.
Tourism is not merely a profit-making industry geared to bring revenues and rushes of people. It is a human activity that has profound and far-reaching prospects. The sole motive of profit accumulation must be discarded and must give way to a value-based enterprise where the benefits of tourism are equitably shared between the various parts of the tourism equation - the tourist, the entrepreneur, and the host
The author is Consultant for “Centre for responsible Tourism” of the Archdiocese of Goa, Diu and Daman. He previously served as Executive Director of the Ecumenical Coalition on Third World Tourism- a global network that works for justice and ethics in tourism. .