Two years ago, there had been fears raised across the spectrum that the closure of liquor outlets along highways will hit tourism in the State.
It had led to an official saying that tourists do not come to Goa only because of the availability of liquor. This carnival, the Tourism Minister has invited the participating tourists to sample the local brew feni, but keep away from drugs. Yes, liquor is a big draw in Goa, we cannot escape it. While the reduced rates at which liquor is sold in Goa does play a major role in attracting tourists, the State’s tourism promoters and managers must look beyond the attractions of sun, sand, liquor when branding Goa.
Let’s get realistic. Carnival today is not about the locals enjoying the festival, it is about increasing tourism footfalls. The float parades at various centres are meant to draw tourists to the State during a festival that is widely promoted in India and abroad, but there appears to be little effort made to turn carnival into a festival that the tourists will remember and talk about once they are back home. Over the years the parades have become a great opportunity to raise local issues and last year there were floats saying no to coal, on the Swachh Bharat programme, calling to save the Bondvoll lake and others. These are great ideas, but when you look at it from the tourism perspective, for what a tourist who has come to Goa specifically for the festival, do such themes on floats manage to entertain?
When crores of rupees are annually being spent on Carnival, mainly for the float parades and decoration on the streets, the returns in the form of tourist footfalls and money spent by the tourists may not compensate. This year the budgeted amount for Carnival is Rs 3 crore, but the heads for which it will be spent are the same as any other year in the past. The thinking and planning of the festival will have to change, if Carnival is going to turn into a major attraction. It needs some innovation, some quality of entertainment in the float parade, which will bring the smile to the faces of the people who line up the route of the parade, rather than the bored stares that are often seen.
Carnival evolved to what it is today by default rather than any planning. It is not the traditional intruz or carnaval, but as the spelling changed to Carnival the festival also shed the spontaneity that once surrounded the celebrations and it now depends on the structured format of a government-run festival that constrains it to a large extent. There is little of anything traditional in the festival and even less of innovation. The float parade and King Momo are modernisms of the 1960s that have been remained through the decades, with a gap during the 1980s before it was resurrected, with little change.
But the traditional still has a charm that is hard to beat. The traditional khell, that still takes place especially in the villages of the south, does not find place in the government-sponsored festivities. These traditional carnival plays may not be able to attract tourists as the language would act as a limitation, but these can still be packaged from a heritage tourism point of view, that would attract a different kind of tourist. There are takers for such tourism, and this is one aspect that Goa has never explored. Carnival can go beyond the float parades and dances as a tourist attraction, only if the tourism planners consider and give it a different touch. As Goa faces a low tourist turnout, the State must look at every possibility to increase the number of visitors.