- NOT A HAPPY ENDING
NOT A HAPPY ENDING
Is Goa tourism on the verge of singing its final songs of lament? As the season ends, are we hearing the dirge at the passing away of not the season but what Goa stood for and felt like to tourists. VIBHA VERMA hears voices of stakeholders of tourism, that sound like an elegy on its passing
hen troubles rain, they pour. As the monsoon showers begin to inundate Goa, it is the tourism sector in Goa which is running for shelter against the outpouring of unfortunate developments which has left Goa’s cash cow reeling. It a goose which isnt quite laying the golden eggs, it’s not the cash cow which is being milked.
From a land of plenty where tourist footfalls kept the cash machines healthy and the bank balances brimming with prosperity, the canvas of Goa’s was pockmarked with empty spaces, unoccupied tables, desolate beach beds.
This image did get blurred when the long weekends stretching to almost the next week, brought hordes of domestic tourist who filled the five kilometer radius in and around North Goa’s beaches painting a picture of robust tourism. The week over, the emptiness returned.
This is the script of the 2016-2017 tourism season. Not quite an epitaph but certainly a worrisome diagnosis.
But there were added knocks too. Demonetisation was a big blow with cash drained out of the system. An then a two big ticket events which are believed to have been huge tourist draws between Christmas and new year- the EDM festivals, Sunburn and Super Sonic, pulled out. While there is no empirical evidence to establish how many tourists came to Goa only to attend these festivals or timed it to match the festival dates, it has bene listed as one of the actors to cause a dent tot eh number of tourists to Goa
But the blows to tourism didn’t stop. A double jeopardy happened, just after the year end. The code of conduct for the State assembly election from January 4 to March 11, came into being and then the implementation of Supreme Court’s order banning establishments selling alcohol within 500 mtrs of the highways from April 1.
The businesses witnessed sharp decline with the industry equating the whole scenario to the days of recession. The shack operators were also amongst the affected lot. “We anyway get the licenses by October or early days of November, by which part of the tourist season and the earning period is lost. Then the State was busy with BRICS… demonetisation and the code of conduct. Those who still preferred to spend their vacation here, spent less,” Cruz Cardozo, President of All Goa Shack Owners Welfare Association told Herald.
“The announcement (scrapping high value currency notes) was sudden to all of us. People were not prepared for such a situation and as such, they were forced to spend less. There are many shacks that did not adopt to online transaction which also impacted our profit,” shack operator at Calangute beach, Joseph Maria said.
Cardozo, pointed out though that it was not a loss-making season but their profit margin was definitely not up to the mark. “The season was not a loss, but we earned less profit. All the factors during the 4-5 months period saw some tourists cancelling their trips to Goa,” he added.
Another shack operator at Benaulim, Domingos Afonso added that Russian government’s decision to lift travel ban to Turkey saw several Russians returning to their traditional holiday hub.
Majority hotels, resorts and guest houses witnessed a dip in bookings while also rush to popular tourist spots declined. Goa has often recorded increase inflow of tourists during the last few days of the New Year and long weekends, however, the situation is grim this time. “It was one of the worst seasons. During the peak season, we had full bookings and inquiries but 2016-year-end still had many rooms vacant. There are also hardly any inquiries…” Domnick Pereira, proprietor of two guests at Calangute and Baga namely Summer and Cross Road-In told Herald.
The guest houses have felt the heat even more because it had a number of visitors, who were EDM visitors. Pereira was forced to reduce the tariff to Rs 2,000 per day that earlier did not go below Rs 6-7,000. “I don’t feel like running the business along the coastal belt. It is better to shift my business to places like Panjim,” he said alleging that several houses illegally rent out their rooms at a much lower price, which was affecting the business of legal traders.
Meanwhile, the enforcement of highway liquor ban has not only come as a major blow to thousands of families dependent on this business but the tourism industry too as the stakeholders fear a dip in arrivals.
Upholding its December 2016 order, the Supreme Court had on March 31, 2017 confirmed that liquor ban within 500 mtrs covers all liquor wholesale and retail, pubs, bars & restaurants and hotels serving liquor. The order offered partial relief reducing the distance to 220 mtrs in small towns having 20,000 or less population.
“The impact on the tourism industry will be immense. The ban is directly and indirectly affecting several families dependent on liquor business. It will put a lot of them to inconvenience. President of Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) Savio Messias told Herald.
The TTAG are also concerned that the average spends per tourist has gone down “When there are no funds, a holiday is not a great holiday. The tourists were affected by some of the factors like demonetisation. They had budgeted holidays and moreover, Russians who were once highest spenders too spent less this time.
However, there were other issues like the tussle between passengers and tourist taxi drivers for overcharging the former. The taxi owners have come under sharp criticism for overcharging during the peak season with helpless tourists forced to bog to their demands. Taxi operator Naresh Chawan questioned as to why restrictions are imposed on them when other stakeholders such as starred hotels, airlines and interstate buses cheat on the price. The answer is simple. Hotels have prices on record and the buyer is free to chose or not to. Nowhere in India are taxi services so unregulated and tourist unfriendly
Similarly, the pending assurance to regularize the rent-a-cabs has also marred the stakeholder concerned as police and RTO usually stop the tourist driver/occupants during the traffic drive to check on violations. “If the cabs are legalized, there won’t be any issue. Tourists should go back with good memories,” North Goa Rent-a-Cab Association Vice President Nitesh Chodankar said.
But there are some factors that cannot be documented. We need to ask if we are sending back our tourists happy and with fond memories. And this seems to have taken a beating. “The constant harassment of the tourists should be stopped by the police. The moment they (police) see a non-Goa registration vehicles, they are stopped and checked. All this doesn’t make a good holiday. If there is a violation, the rider/driver should be penalized but what we see is that almost all the tourists using the rented vehicles are stopped,” Messias said.
With the season already concluded, the stakeholders still hope for a better upcoming season. “We look at the coming season positively, but all depends on the GST implementation in July. This is one factor that will predict whether or not the season would be good,” the TTAG said.
As the waters of the sea come in while the tourists recede, deep down within Goa doesn’t have the pleasure of being a very good host. And that is a feeling that no stakeholder would like to go to bed with.