Is Goa’s hinterland ready to welcome tourists, tourism activities and the related pitfalls? For the past five decades tourism in Goa has been confined to the littoral areas, whose villages have grown unplanned as hotels, restaurants and tourism-related services have sprung up at will, and where they will. With the Tourism Master Plan, which is currently in the stages of finalisation, also turning its focus on the villages of the State, tourism is set to take a new path, that has not yet been unchartered. Just beyond the coastal areas, lies a vast area that has not fallen prey to tourism, and the draft plan is now looking at promoting the villages of Goa to increase the footfalls of international and domestic visitors and even allow them to explore traditional Goan houses.
The culture and heritage tourism module of the plan, speaks of identifying villages, which will be labeled as ‘tourism villages’ and be given special accreditations based on specific attraction to help tourists explore these. There are also proposals to offer tourists quality experiences in protected areas so as to augment visitors in addition to overnight stays within the laws. So if tourists were now visiting a village or a protected cultural site on a day excursion, they could in the future make an overnight halt at the village, or spend even more than just a day and night soaking in the atmosphere of the villages.
Are Goan villages and the villagers ready for this? Not just for the tourists, but also for the related downside?
This won’t be the first time that heritage or cultural tourism has been proposed to supplement the beach tourism that Goa has survived on for the past decades, since tourism took off as an industry in the State. Late Lenny Pinto, when he was president of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa in 1995, had written, “The rich cultural heritage of Goa (a blend of the East and West) needs to be preserved at all costs and publicised as it can make Goa one of the most successful tourist destinations in the world.” The key words in that sentence are preserved, publicised and successful tourist destination.
That suggestion, made by the TTAG over two decades ago, has to be juxtaposed with a point made in the Charter formulated at The International Seminar on Contemporary Tourism and Humanism, in Brussels in November 1976, that stressed upon conservation, saying, “Whatever, however, may be its motivations and the ensuring benefits, cultural tourism cannot be considered separately from the negative, despoiling or destructive efforts which, the massive and uncontrolled use of monuments of sites entails.” Any tourism-related activity that is taken up in heritage villages or heritage areas, has to keep preservation of the monuments or houses as its principal objective.
But, more important, and a factor that needs to be taken into consideration at the planning level is the local population and their views. Without adequate checks and balances to preserve the village life, and insulate the villagers from the downside of tourism, heritage tourism in Goa should not be allowed to take off. This also holds good for the nature tourism that the master plan envisages, where it looks to ‘facilitate development of quality facilities and experiences in protected areas to increase the number of visitors and potentially overnight stays within the framework outlined, through applicable laws and regulations’.
With tourism one of the main contributors to the government exchequer and a big employer, what needs to be ensured first is that the current creases in the industry – the drop in charters for instance – are ironed out, before the sights are set at taking tourism further inland.