That is what Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant said while speaking to a national television channel, and is a statement that has confounded the industry that is already confused as to the prevailing situation. After having drawn flak for allowing tourism to carry on without any restrictions that led to the second wave of the pandemic, the Goa government appears to be now turning extra cautious by stating that the State will not open till all are vaccinated. The government has set a July 30 deadline of vaccinating the entire eligible local population, while at the moment that appears not feasible, the CM reiterated that efforts are being made to meet this target. If that target date is not met, will tourism remain closed or will it be closed in the State?
Setting aside the vaccination issue for the moment, the puzzling question that arises from the statement is: when was tourism closed in Goa? After the unlock in July 2020 when the borders were opened for tourists, was tourism closed again?
The answer is that tourism was never stopped after that, not even during the April-May 2021 lockdown nor during the curfew that is ongoing. Announcing the curfew on May 8, Sawant had said that tourists coming to Goa would have to produce a COVID-19 negative certificate or proof of vaccination. Earlier on April 28, announcing the four-day weekend lockdown, the Chief Minister had said that tourists who were in Goa could stay on in hotels and not move out and tourists who have bookings in hotels would be allowed to enter. The tourism industry was, therefore, open but with restrictions for the tourists who were not permitted to go out of the hotels due to the curfew. Even at the current time, hotels are open though the occupancy is very low.
The latest statement from the Chief Minister has not gone down well with the stakeholders. Industry insiders are right when they say that the government makes a statement and then changes it, and that this just goes on. They are also right with the suggestion that the industry needs to go slow in opening up and needs to ensure that everything is in place as it has ‘earned such a terrible name’ in the past months, due to the spurt in cases. This is not the time to send confusing signals to the industry that is valiantly attempting to get back on its feet.
Given the important role that tourism plays in the Goan economy, the industry will require some special attention from the government to return to a normalcy that does not lead to health concerns as those the occurred in the previous three months. The ideal situation would be such where tourism does its bit for the State and those dependent on it, but neither the stakeholders nor the people in general are at risk of infection. The option, perhaps the best at the moment that Goa can look at, is ensuring that the employees of the hospitality industry are vaccinated on a priority basis and that tourists coming to Goa carry proof of vaccination.
The experience of the island country of Seychelles that opened up for tourism after having vaccinated almost its entire population, only to see cases rise again, has to be taken into account when Goa plans its restructuring of tourism in the pandemic times. More importantly, the State will require a marketing plan that tells the world Goa is safe. The damage to the State’s image by the rise in cases has to be undone, and if there is a repeat of rising cases in the coming months, Goa could well take tourism off the list of its economic activities for the immediate future.