Saturday , 20 April 2019
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Goa Tourism Plan: Focus On Priorities

BINAYAK DATTA

Back in August 2014, the then state minister for Tourism had announced in the Vidhan Sabha a ‘Master Tourism Plan’ would be in place in “38 weeks” which approximately would have been May of 2015. This much-awaited draft plan being designed by European consultants is now ready (albeit 3½ years behind schedule). The report comprises of six modules starting from current and projected tourism scenario to development of master plan to detailing action plan. Some of the modules, it says, have been “submitted and accepted”. The ones which are now being discussed are modules 3 and 4 – The Tourism Master Plan and the Draft Tourism Policy.

Before I proceed further, let me set the perspectives. In terms of the Economic Survey, GDPs generated from hotels and restaurants (at constant prices) are around Rs 320 crore (just 0.6 per cent of the state GDP at constant prices). The Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) for the last six years was just 2.37 per cent. In sharp contrast, the rail transport and the air transport sectors together contributed around Rs 802 crore with a CAGR of around 14.6 per cent, a glaring mismatch! I would also like to mention that whereas Singapore gets foreign arrivals of around 18 million a year, India gets less than its half at 7.7 million a year and Goa is just at 6 lakh – coming a poor 9th among the Indian states. Secondly, whereas Mauritius has a promotion budget of $11.04 per arrival, India in totality gets $3.45 and Goa’s numbers are a pathetic $0.52. So that is where we are, in terms of priorities.

Serious business

We have unfortunately a tendency to treat tourism as a hobby rather than serious business in the services sector. I may mention Kerala has 11,114 star-rated hotel rooms compared to Goa’s just 4,317 rooms. I must say, if we are to prioritise on our tourism, we must be able to think differently and think big. In that context, I think it was highly positive that we appointed a couple of international advisers to draw up the big picture in proper contexts, set to appropriate benchmarks.

My third point concerns the process. I think it would have been far better if the ultimate stakeholders, not only the tourism bodies but the panchayats and local bodies, were in the loop from start, simply because huge change initiatives require huge change champions and that cannot be done without “ownership” of local stakeholders. More particularly, in view of the air of lack of trust between policymakers and beneficiaries in Goa, from proposals disturbing coconut orchards to those of narrowing down of high-tide lines etc you see it profound everywhere.

I think the Master Plan is an excellent paper eg. We see Sri Lanka is best in nature tourism where we are somewhere in the middle. We see that we are low in luxury tourism while Maldives is the best. In sports and adventure, Bali is the best (Goa not too bad) and Kerala tops in culture and heritage where we seem mediocre. So, in a way, our road map is clear – more significantly we already have the raw inputs for the recipe already, both in terms of our beaches, our heritage spots and our hills and forests. But what I found missing is the stress that we need to put immediately on the ground level ABCs like for example, local transportation, waste management, perception management and infrastructure.

Unfulfilled promises

I would now like to look at the promises made in the BJP election manifestos for 2012 and 2017. There were promises on conversion of heritage sites, the completion of the eleven bridges and uninterrupted supply of power and water. There was a promise of freeing Goa from garbage. There were promises of tourism being given an “industry status”, promises of better transportation…….whereas in actuality we saw more and more drugs, more prostitution and more garbage. A study by the Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute of Kochi found our beaches to be the most littered beaches in the country. The promises were neither prioritised nor addressed – Jonathan Swift’s “Promises and pie-crust are made to be broken” in his ‘Polite Conversations’ so conspicuous!

My next point is on casinos. The Plan proposes relocation of all casinos on land in a “cluster”. I think casinos can play an effective role in leisure and entertainment tourism, where we are dismal, provided they are located off from eco-sensitive spots like the Mandovi. Nothing dirty about them whatsoever; regulations are required and so are proper enforcements.

Infrastructure

I am a bit disappointed having found no sufficient stress on the Mopa airport and its infrastructural requirements. Today, where Dabolim handles 7.6 million passengers a year, in just four years the number of passengers would have more than trebled to 25 million – plans for infrastructure like a North-South Metro Rail corridor etc need to be there in the medium term along with its funding.

The total funds required are forecast at Rs 4,200 crore in ten years of which Rs 3,800 crore would come from private initiatives and just Rs 400 crore from the government. I found it too good to believe when I compared the promotional expenditures as I mentioned.

My last point is on the policy document submitted. Surprisingly, the policy document never mentions the ‘Master Plan’ at all. I found the policy – a multi-layered description of an organisation. I think a small body with a member each from the tourism ministry, the tourism industry, the town and country planning, the environment departments, the conservancies, local bodies and the transport departments should be present with the Chief Minister at the top. This body will lay down and modify policies and the GTDC should be responsible for the implementation.

I think tourism is the industry meant for Goa. Let us not defocus our attention on unnecessary non-value-added activities. Let us go after tourism, heart and soul. Our education, our infrastructure and our facilities should all prioritise this – the benchmarks and potentials for which I already explained.

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