Goa seems to be floundering after more than a double decade’s run as a preferred tourist destination. While state mismanagement and a lack of vision seem the most plausible reasons, a group of passionate and responsible travel businesses have come together to form a Responsible Tourism Collective - perhaps the best community led initiative in addressing these concerns and working with the Centre and other state bodies to promote conscious travel.
Deepa George met with the Collective and comes away hopeful.
he aftermath of the peak tourist season in Goa has left Goa’s beaches ravaged with broken beer bottles and garbage strewn everywhere. As we step into the New Year seeking answers to how and why Goa’s tourism has declined, news of the proposed changes in the CRZ guidelines and pithy government knee jerk solution of decreasing prices of accomodation and food, as a response to fixing tourism woes don’t evoke much promise. Neither do the tall claims by certain ministers in creating golf courses and more casinos to attract ‘high end’ tourists. It seems the whole state machinery is in denial of the real issues. How else can one justify the harakiri of the Goa draft Tourism policy, created by KPMG which does not involve local stakeholders and environmental experts who run sustainable tourism enterprises in Goa. Sadly, it seems more tourist skewed leaving out locals who are the primary stakeholders without prioritising the unique culture, nature and history of this land - the very reason that attracted people to Goa in the first place.
Working towards a collaborative model, a motley group of responsible and sustainable tourism entrepreneurs in Goa have come together to form a collective to voice these concerns and more importantly work together in keeping the best interests of environment and local communities paramount. Puja Mitra, founder of Terra Conscious, an award winning marine conservation group in Goa explains the genesis, “Outlook India Responsible Tourism Awards invited Terra Conscious to present our work as a community and conservation responsible tourism case study from India. After we presented our work, some representatives from the Global Sustainable Tourism Council who considered Goa as a declining destination were surprised to see three responsible initiatives from the state.” Along with Puja, Poonam Ribo (founder Konkan Explorers) and Nirmal Kulkarni (Partner - Wildernest) were also present at the function. Poonam adds, “Three of us from Goa were nominated at the Awards function and both Konkan Explorers & Wildernest won awards. Most other states were represented at the function and we missed having our state represented there.” This got the trio talking to form a conservation oriented body and once back in Goa, Puja got together other like minded business folks to join hands in forming the Responsible Tourism Collective (RTC).
With Travel & Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) and Centre for Responsible Tourism (CRT) - two industry bodies already established here, RTC aims to be different and includes small operators, comprising a more exhaustive representation across categories. Through this, it hopes to create an alternative and a collective voice to engage with the State. Adds Parag Rangnekar, Owner - Mrugaya Nature Retreat, “This Collective is an association of passionate tourism operators, based in Goa, not all are necessarily Goan by origin but having the best interest of Goa at heart. It includes homestays, experiential tours, eco resorts & bird, wildlife and marine tour operators who are environment conscious and community focused. This shared vision makes it a first of its kind. Our goal is to promote the right kind of tourism in Goa.” With a shrug he adds, “What happened in the coast should not repeat in the hinterland. Our aim is to be solution driven and we look forward to working with government bodies and hopefully influence policy decisions.”
RTC already has an impressive list of authentic and conservation oriented travel operators. From eco conscious stays like Olaulim Backyards, Saraya, Vaayu, Cajueiro Homestead to experiential tour organisers like Felly Gomes (Live Happy), The Local Beat, Goa Rafting, Konkan Explorers, Khoj-aao Adventures, Mrugaya Xpeditions, Make it Happen, Journeys with Meaning among others; the Collective presently has 16 members and will be registered as an NGO by February end. They are open to new memberships and follow Sustainable Tourism guidelines in choosing partners and specialists to strengthen its corum.
The diversity and potential that Goa offers as a destination is mind boggling. The corresponding lack of vision and plunder in making a fast buck with no thought on the resulting impact on the land, livelihood, community and culture is equally appalling. Puja rightly states, “Goa’s unique biodiversity is stunning. You could see an Indian Ocean Humpback dolphin in the morning, a Painted Stork in the afternoon, a leopard in the evening and a Malabar Pit Viper at night - all within 24 hours of being here. Knowing and experiencing this side of Goa is the first step towards protecting and caring for it.”
Aditya Mukharji - Hospitality & Tourism Consultant suggests, “Environment friendly can also be lucrative business and is the right and only way to go. It is important for us as a group to showcase this as an example. There is great scope in creating a Destination Management capability for Goa.”
Clearly world over, eco tourism is taking over mass tourism. With more conscientious travellers seeking cultural experiences, holidays are experience led rather than destination led. Besides, it augurs well to be cognisant of the fact that Goa is a water and power deficit state with inadequate sewerage facility. Parag cautions, “We need to be careful about inordinate resorts and footfalls. Sikkim, Nagaland and Kerala are examples of how strong government policies have encouraged sustainable and community led tourism.”
It’s time we changed the narrative about Goa’s tourism and its stereotypical image. It isn’t about cheap booze and casinos, it shouldn’t be about destroying nature in the quest for sketchy development, it needn’t be about allowing heritage structures to be torn down to create modern monstrosities that stand vapidly in scenic villages. As Pankaj Lad, Co-founder Nature’s Nest Eco Resort concludes, “I am very excited to be part of this Collective. There are many businesses here that uphold good tourism practices beyond the casinos and resorts. It is time we came together to change this scenario. The day tourists are greeted at airports with signages of ethical tour operators rather than casinos, will be the change we want to work towards.”