07 Jul 2024  |   06:14am IST

New Tourism Bill: Is the proposed legislation in Goa's interest?

The 'Goa Tourism Promotion, Management and Regulation (GTPMR) Bill, 2024' is likely to be introduced in the upcoming session of the Goa Assembly. Stakeholders have termed Bill as draconian due to the hefty fines proposed and the taxation of food products and everything related to tourism. The Bill has been labelled as “totally anti-Goan”. Ironically, the bill drafted by the tourism department, says it aims to consolidate and amend the laws applicable to tourism and to “protect, preserve and retain the natural and cultural heritage of the State”. In the weekly Herald TV debate, Point-Counterpoint, SUJAY GUPTA deliberates on the issues surrounding this Bill and assess whether this Bill is in Goa’s interest or not
New Tourism Bill: Is the proposed  legislation in Goa's interest?

The State government has sought feedback, objections and suggestions from stakeholders to the draft ‘Goa Tourism Promotion, Management and Regulation (GTPMR) Bill, 2024’ latest by July 6. 2024, proposed to regulate tourism sector in the State.

The GTPMR Bill, 2024, proposed by the Department of Tourism, is a legislation meant to integrate and revamp the existing acts/rules/policies/guidelines that govern various segments of the tourism Industry in the State.

According to the Department of Tourism, over a period of time, due to several changes witnessed in the tourism industry due to advancement in technology and emergence of new concepts and tourism practices, a need was felt for a comprehensive legislation to integrate and revamp the existing rules that govern various segments of the tourism industry in the State.

A similar Bill drafted in 2023 states that it was to consolidate and amend the laws applicable to tourism in the State, and aimed to protect, preserve and retain the natural and cultural heritage of the State in order to ensure that it remains a destination of choice for tourists.

The Bill also seeks to repeal the Goa Registration of Tourist Trade Act, 1982 and The Goa Tourist Places (Protection and Maintenance) Act, 2001.

The intentions might be right, but on the ground, the response to the proposed legislation does not seem encouraging.

Stakeholders have termed the Bill as draconian due to the proposed Tourism Safety Force, the hefty fines proposed and the taxation of food products and everything related to tourism. They are unhappy with the fact that each and every establishment including hotels and restaurants had to be re-registered. They have to pay a 2% tourist sustainability fee on even food items.

All events have to be registered if there are more than 25 people involved. This will include birthdays and even Christmas parties. The Tourist Force will have the powers of the police, Excise department to raid commercial premises connected with the tourism sector.

With the Bill likely to be introduced in the upcoming Monsoon Session of Goa Legislative Assembly, what would be the ramifications of this proposed law?

We all know that Goa is suffering and gaining from tourism equally, while of course footfalls and the number of tourists keep fluctuating. But the hotels seem to be full and the stakeholders seem to be making money. 

This is the broad picture which you see from the outside. But there are a large number of issues with regard to Goa tourism that need to be fixed, like the problem sustainability is one. Second is whether Goa can carry more than what it's carrying now in terms of the number of hotels and the infrastructure, which is really creaking and almost collapsing.

Recently former minister, Suresh Prabhu spoke about the carrying capacity of the land and pointed to how this is extremely important and if you break that carrying capacity or you overburden the land, then fragile ecosystems also collapse.

But the most specific reason why we are discussing this issue is to deep dive into the GTPMR Bill, 2024’ which is likely to be introduced in the upcoming Assembly session. The Bill is in circulation now and objections have been sought and the last date for submitting objections was July 6. Of course, stakeholders have objected to that and have asked for an extension for submitting the feedback. We are yet to hear whether that request is going to be accepted or not, but the point here is that there are some clauses in which the stakeholders, especially medium and smaller hoteliers, feel very contentious. It is like showing a red rag to a bull.

Presenting his views about the Bill, Santosh Diukar, President, Small and Medium Hoteliers Association, said, “Firstly I would like to tell that the establishments which have to be registered are limited not just to the hotels but also restaurants, along with the bars, because restaurants are not registered under Tourism Department. So they will have to register again. If you see, Café Tato is not registered under the Tourism Department.”

“As per serial number 10, where the schedule of classification of enterprises is given, it says restaurants in tourism clusters only. The government says it will be creating tourism clusters. Goa is itself 105 km from North to South. Why do you need clusters in the State?” Diukar questioned.

“Again if you see bars also have to be registered, along with the convention centres. So the halls meant for commercial events, like marriage halls, will also come under this legislation. Even photographers have to be registered,” Diukar said.

According to the government, the purpose of this proposed legislation is to regulate the sector better and get more people under its ambit, so that the chances of unauthorised people operating the tourism related facilities becomes less. So, what is the harm in regulating these bodies?

“If that is so, then why haven’t they included casinos in this list?” he queried.

“Now we have to re-register. Whoever are actually registered under the Tourism Department, they have to re-register and repay the registration fees of all the taxes within 180 days. All that has been paid earlier becomes null and void. This is going to hurt the hospitality and food industry,” he said.

Now speaking about the 2% tourist sustainability fee to be paid by every tourism enterprise, Ernest Dias, Member, Goa Tourism Board, said, “The issue is, Goa as a destination is becoming more expensive. We have GST. We have so many other charges and expenses. There are hidden expenses which each hotelier has to pay to the local bodies so if you add another 2%, it may sound like a very small amount. But actually you're increasing the cost.”

“And today, when we think of Goa, we consider it as a beach destination. The beach destinations in the world like Turkey, Thailand and Vietnam are much cheaper than Goa and we have seen people moving away. Even your chartered flights, which cater to upmarket tourists, are not coming to Goa, instead going to other destinations because you're finding it much cheaper by adding this 2% and especially if it's a four five star hotel, the 2% is not two rupees. It's going to be much more,” Dias said.

“So that will definitely adversely affect the numbers. When you prepare a holiday package, it will affect the sales,” he added.

Dixon Vaz, Vice-President, Small and Medium Hoteliers Association, said, “Goa first of all is a natural destination. If you look back at the 1970s and ‘80s, tourists used to come and stay with the local people. This was the beauty of it and that's why Goa became popular. Now our worry is it has become very commercial. The government has to understand the reasons for it. Does it want revenue only or project Goa as a safe destination for tourists?”

“People are coming to Goa to have a good time. It doesn't mean that everybody wants to spend crores of rupees. We need to make sure that their life becomes easy. They pay a hefty fee. We are afraid that all these things might take a toll on the tourism sector, which is very fragile. Problem is, the stakeholders are not taken into consideration,” he said.

“There are checks and balances in the system to detect any illegality. Best example is Goods and Services Tax (GST). If you're not paying GST, it means you are doing illegal business. So on one side the government is promoting home stay, friendly and ease of doing business, but on the other side, what they have drafted is very anti-Goan. Nobody is happy about these things,” Vaz said.

“This will only make life difficult for small businessmen, but also the big hotels. So it is going to affect everybody. So it’s a big concern. That is the reason the stakeholders are not very happy and we are raising our voice, because that finally ends up on the guest. Finally, the guests have to pay and one there is no explanation for it. It can’be only in Goa,” he said.

“We already paying a huge sum in GST, plus there is a 2% surcharge and there is no justification for it. So this will definitely impact the tourism sector,” he said. Why was this Bill brought and what is the background? What has been the series of discussions held with stakeholders?

“This Bill has not taken into consideration the other two old bills which were there. The Goa Registration of Tourist Trade act 1982 and Rules 1985 and the Goa Tourist Places (Protection and Maintenance) Act, 2001 which was there. Earlier the Tourist Registration Act was there for hotels. It had the details regarding how to register, the classification of hotels…all these were mentioned in it. A, B, C and D were the four categories of hotels. In this Bill, that has not been mentioned,” Diukar said.

“Hotels C and D were having non-AC rooms. Today you cannot have rooms without ACs. So ACs are a must in today's time. So when you're upgrading the categories, you upgrade on certain things. This kind of classification has to be done. These have not been taken into consideration. If you see, they mention the Sustainable Fund. But they don't

mention about how you'll utilise that fund. They are not speaking about having ecological benefits, like having Green hotels. They are not specifying on what would be the usage of that particular fund for which 2% is being collected,” he said.

“It is surprising that the Bill mentions a Tourism Safety Force. We were not consulted before drafting this Bill. Small and medium hoteliers were not even informed about this Bill. So, it came as a complete surprise when we saw the notification in newspapers,” he said.

When asked about the initial reaction after seeing the notification, Diuka said, “I informed the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) about this and we said this needs to be studied. So, since I had the time, I went through the entire Bill and our team also was there. We went through each and every point. We took out almost around 38 flaws in this Bill. There will be still more if we take some legal opinion. We are highlighting only two to three points right now because we want the Bill to be discussed in the Assembly.”

“This needs to be thoroughly studied. We cannot just give our feedback in such a short notice,” he said.

Dias said that soon after the notification was published, immediately the president of TTAG contacted the managing committee members and said there was a need to discuss it.

“We took a legal opinion and prepared a draft. We plan to meet the Chief Minister and discuss the contents with him,” he said. 

When asked about who drafted such a bill, Diukar said that according to his sources, “lakhs of rupees have been paid for drafting this Bill to a consultant from Hyderabad”.

“There's a legal firm which is from Hyderabad. They have drafted it. They don't have any knowledge about Goa. They have just done a copy paste job. You cannot have the same same rules for Goa, which is there at other places. Now see, we are already facing problems with the Madhya Pradesh Noise Pollution Act. Such acts cannot be implemented here,” he said.

Sharing his thoughts, Vaz said, “Besides being a hotelier, I'm also the Sarpanch of Cavelossim village panchayat. There we have few five star hotels and there are a lot of events happening on daily basis. Our panchayat issues the licenses the same day. But their documentation is huge.”

“I see that the guys who are organising the events, have to run from pillar to post and there's so much of fees one has to pay. Last year they were charging Rs 1 lakh for an event. It came down to Rs 30,000 after Chief Minister's intervention, which is good. But still this is a problem. We are not doing anything to take the tourism to the level compared with other destinations,” he said.

Now coming to the Tourism Safety Force, under Section 20, it says the government shall constitute a Tourism Safety Force comprising of officers deputed from the police personel of the State and tourist guards deployed in various tourism centres. Now the power of this Force is quite strong. 

It has the power to arrest in case of a non-bailable and cognizable offense, the power to conduct search of any person and sees any items in his belonging for violation of this Act, have the part to secure evidence from an attendance of witnesses for Clauses A and B have the power to impose and collect fines for offenses of nuisance and touting. Coordinate with all departments of the State for safety and security of tourists in the Tourism Cluster.


Idhar Udhar