09 Sep 2018 06:46am IST
Alexandre Moniz Barbosa
The challenge for the Tourism Master Plan is to ensure that tourism can be used to conserve and preserve the environment, the heritage, the culture and the community
With the finalisation of the Tourism Master Plan now in the last lap – at least that is what the stakeholders hope – there may be a quick pause required to look at how destinations across the world have been reacting to the industry before the plan for Goa is signed and initialed. If this plan is going to serve the State for another few years – 20 at least – then it cannot fail to take into account trends in the industry and also the uprisings against the industry in recent years.
Last year there was a wave of anti-tourism protests across popular destinations in Europe, leading to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) calling on local authorities in countries to handle the growth in the industry in a more sustainable manner. There was a website that even listed cities that tourists should avoid this year because of the anti-tourism marches. What did happen was there was a glut of tourists in certain European countries, especially Spain that drew a record numbers of tourists the previous year. This rush of tourists was largely also aided by the impact of Internet websites that now allow tourists to book their stay in homes of people at far more concessional prices than they would pay had they to stay in hotels. Tourism has become cheaper and more convenient, which led to pressure on the available resources. Barcelona had even experienced even some violence, from the anti-tourism lobby, as Spain welcomed over 85 million tourists in 2016.
Take the case of Venice, which has a population of around 55,000 but annually gets 20 million tourists taking gondola rides in the canals, hoping that the gondolier will spontaneously break into ‘O Sole Mio’ and often disappointed when he does not sing it, and the canals are not all that they are purported to be. Tourists who have been to Venice in recent months have returned disenchanted, and the residents of the city are dissatisfied, and they made this known last year when they marched through the city in protest of the pollution and the impact on the environment in their city of canals.
When we talk of a Tourism Master Plan, we need to clearly define the model of tourism that Goa is aiming for. Is it still the ‘sun, sand, sea, surf’ that has been the mainstay of the industry, bringing in the tourists but seeing little investment from the State? Or is the State ready for a change? The Tourism Master Plan has to tell us this.
When we talk of projected arrivals and the desire to increase the number of tourist footfalls in the State, we need to look at the Venice experience. While Goa is nowhere near that kind of a comparison in numbers of residents and tourists, the sustainability of the industry and the carrying capacity of the land has to be taken into account. We are now building an airport that will allow a fairly large number of arrivals in the State and tourism, though a major industry in the State, is restricted to certain pockets along the coast, leading to unplanned growth of hotels and such tourism facilities. It is also not a year-long activity, and draws the major numbers during just six months of the year, with the industry practically limping for four months. So are we ready for a deluge of tourists – ready as in with infrastructure to allow ease of travel and stay? The existing narrow village roads of coastal Goa, where the tourists congregate in large numbers, are not any indication of a State ready to meet a larger number of arrivals. Which leads to the question of whether Goa should aim for quantity tourism or quality tourism.
This is not to advocate the stopping of tourism, or stopping tourists from arriving in Goa. The State needs tourism and according to the UNWTO, the business volume of tourism equals or even surpasses that of oil exports, food products or automobiles. Goa needs to get a share of that pie.
Tourism today is a major economic activity the world over, and, as in the case of Goa, a main source of income for many countries, especially of the developing nature. So to stay relevant to international tourists, Goa has to re-invent itself, if not completely, at least to a certain extent, and to achieve this it may even have to get rid of the clichéd ‘sun, sand, sea’ tag that has given it its bulk of tourists over the decades.
Tourism growth goes alongside increasing diversification and competition among destinations, especially new ones that emerge regularly, weaning away the travellers from the old haunts to taste something new and exciting. If Goa does not change its source markets, it will never be new, nor will it be exciting. The last major source country that Goa attracted was Russia, and even that country is now old news in Goa and Goa is an old destination for Russia, which means the State has to break new ground in the international market if it wants to stay alive and relevant as a destination.
The anti-tourism marches in Europe happened because local residents were angry at the housing costs that kept rising, at the streets that were always crowded and the fact that the benefits of the industry were cornered by a few and not by all. Sounds familiar? It should. As such murmurings have been heard in Goa, and before they reach a crescendo they would need to be seriously addressed.
And that’s why the Tourism Master Plan must deal with the needs of the host – the local community – without any compromise. The local community has constantly been at loggerheads with the government over the environmental fallout of the tourism industry. The impact on the environment has been debated tirelessly, but the trick would be if tourism can be used to conserve and preserve the environment, the heritage, the culture and the community. That’s a challenge that those who will be given the final touches to the Tourism Master Plan should take up.
The Tourism Master Plan must ensure that not only does the tourist who has visited Goa return to him home with happy memories, but that the local community also has a rewarding and enriching experience. The local community is as important a stakeholder in any tourism plan, as is the businessman and the tourist. So ‘we too’ have to be taken into account and ‘our’ aspirations cannot be sidelined to give the industry a boost.