The Master Plan was in the making for six years and was finally sent to the government for approval in December last year and cleared ten months later this month. Much has changed in the State since work on the master plan and policy was first begun. The policy broadly covers coastal, educational, cultural and nature-based tourism, leisure, entertainment, and meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibition (MICE). That’s nothing new in it, however what’s important is that there is a provision for constituting a Goa Tourism Board, which will chalk out strategies for promotion and marketing Goa at the international platform.
Despite getting a major chunk of its tourists from within the country, Goa depends quite a bit on the foreign tourists to keep the industry in the blue. Since the lockdown of March this year, the industry in Goa has been struggling and even the opening of hotels for tourists has not brought in the kind of numbers that would get the industry back on its feet. No doubt, the number of people visiting are few, but the industry is still looking at the skies hoping that the charter flights would recommence operations. In that regard, the decision of the Central government to begin issuing visas for various persons to visit India, but leaving out tourism from this, is a big blow to the Goa tourism stakeholders who were almost completely banking on the charter flights recommencing to boost their failing fortunes.
Just how dependent tourism in Goa is on charter flights can be gauged by the representations made by the tourism body – Travel and Tourism Association of Goa – to the government seeking special clearance for the charter landings. With the recent decision of the Centre to keep foreign tourist visas on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Goa is not likely to see charter tourists this season, as the decision in effect, makes it quite clear that the government will not be allowing foreign tourists to visit the country anytime soon. If Goa Tourism wants to increase tourist footfalls it will have to look elsewhere this season.
The good news for the tourism industry, however, is that the government has announced the dates for the International Film Festival of India that will happen in January 2021 rather than in November 2020. This will be a hybrid version of earlier festivals as it will have a physical segment and an online segment. It will therefore not draw to the State the number of visitors that the festival otherwise brings, but in the current situation, where the tourism stakeholders are clutching desperately at any possible event that will bring tourists, the film festival could turn out to be a lifeline as it will prove that Goa is prepared for tourism.
Against this backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant effect on tourism, how relevant will the master plan that has been approved turn out to be? Goa may require a completely fresh look at toursim post-COVID as the situation has changed across the world. The likelihood of foreign travel for leisure purposes in the immediate aftermath of the COVID pandemic is dim, and while the State looks at promoting Goa beyond beaches, churches, temples and heritage, the immediate concern would be having occupancy in the hotels. With tourist visas for foerigners ruled out for the present, the State needs to market itself within the country in order to keep the tourism industry afloat until the situation returns to normal.