30 Dec 2019  |   04:59am IST

Tourism is no longer a day at the beach in Goa

If Christmas failed to cheer the tourism industry in Goa, will New Year’s Eve and the New Year’s Day bring a smile to the stakeholders? Deserted beaches, empty shacks and vacant rooms in hotels have been the hallmark of the peak tourism week in Goa.

This is not what the industry expected during the period from Christmas to New Year, but is resignedly dealing with it, as footfalls drop and there appears little chance that the situation could change for the better in the coming days before the sun sets for the last time on 2019.

This possibly is turning out to be the worst season of many for the tourism industry in the State. It started with the largest charter operator from Britain to Goa, Thomas Cook UK, shutting operations. After that it was the barrier placed in getting the shacks allotted and set up on the beaches due to the delay in finalising the Coastal Zone Management Plan. Along the way came the economic crunch that is leading to fewer people spending on extras, and tourism in Goa is looking forlornly at the setting sun on a year during which nothing much has gone its way.

In just two decades, Goa has turned from being a much sought after tourism destination for the New Year, to fighting to stand with the rest of the competition. At the turn of the millennium Goa was among the top destinations in the world. Two decades later, it does not come near this ranking. This is indicative that something has gone wrong for the State in this industry. It still has not unveiled its master plan that has been years in the making. There exists the possibility that the situation could well have changed by the time the master plan is finally released.

The State has relied entirely on its beaches to draw the tourists. The stewardship of Goa Tourism has plainly failed to take the State from a position of strength to an even stronger spot. Instead, the State has descended several rungs in the ladder, and reclaiming the spot it once held will be no easy task. Goa Tourism is now announcing that 75 per cent of the basic facilities will be available on the beaches before the next tourism season. The key word here is ‘basic’. After decades of surviving on tourism – beach tourism to be exact – is the State only now thinking of providing ‘basic’ facilities such as toilets, changing rooms, drinking water and parking? At this point, Goa should have been concentrating on improving upon facilities, rather than on providing them. And this is where the State has failed. It has not pampered its golden goose.

But, if that’s the scene on the coast, it is a little different where the casinos are concerned. As the year comes to an end, it is the casinos that have a lineup of stars performing and long queues of tourists outside their entry points, waiting for the feeder boats to take them to the casino vessels anchored mid river. While this may prop up the tourism industry to some extent, as it also increases occupancy of hotels in the city, its popularity will not go down well with many who in the past have opposed casinos in Goa, and continue to do so.

Tourism has always been a fickle industry depending on too many variables to succeed. It can take just one unfavourable review to dislodge a destination from the prime position that it occupies. In the case of Goa, there have been many reviews that have tainted and tarred the State. The drug scene that has got tagged to Goa has also kept away a section of travellers who look for a clean image of the destination. Goa may talk of high-value tourism, and high-spenders, but then it has to get the infrastructure ready for such tourism. This cannot be delayed any longer.

The minimum a high-spending tourist will want is a clean beach and a motorable road. Sadly, Goa cannot boast of even having that. The State needs to get its basic infrastructure in place, if it intends to compete with the new markets, and then diversify from a beach destination to include other interests. After the debacle of mining, Goa can’t allow the tourism industry to go the same way. There will be nothing to fall back upon, if that occurs.