Members of Tourism Minister Manohar Azgaonkar’s family accompanying him on his official tour of US cities to promote Goa as a tourist destination is a scandal that calls for a probe.The state government has sanctioned money for the expenses of the three-member official delegation comprising Minister Azgaonkar, Chief Secretary Dharmendra Sharma and tourism deputy director Rajesh Kale. How did Azgaonkar’s wife, daughter, brother and sister-in-law attach themselves as the delegation’s tail? Who is collecting their flight, hotel and transport bills? As a public servant, Azgaonkar is duty bound to publicly disclose how the expenses of the members of his family were met. Goa has been sending delegations for promotion of tourism in various countries, but this is perhaps for the first time that family members of the tourism minister have unofficially joined the official delegation. Azgaonkar’s brother and sister-in-law are government servants. It has to be probed whether they took the permission for their department heads for travelling abroad as a private group of a government delegation.
The Azgaonkar-led delegation was scheduled to hold two road shows in the US, one at Chicago and another at New York. Informed sources say that no road shows were held at these cities, though an event management agency named MX Advertising was hired to organise them. Road shows pass through roads to make a buzz in the city about the attractions Goa offers. What the official delegation is there in the US for if not for road shows? Enjoyment of the Tourism Minister and his family? It looks so absurd when Azgaonkar falsely claims in a tweet that he was busy promoting tourism for ‘God’s Own Abode’ in the US! (When did Azgaonkar steal the slogan of Kerala tourism, ‘God’s Own Country’ with a change of Abode for Country? God save Goa’s Tourism Minister!)
The government has to come clean on what the delegation did. This is the third time that Azgaonkar has gone abroad to promote tourism in ‘God’s Own Abode’ since he became Tourism Minister in 2017. The other two places he visited were Moscow and Paris. The state has been sending official delegations for promotion of Goa as an international tourist destination, which has helped the state in attracting larger numbers of foreign tourists every year. Perhaps the state would get more tourists if the members of official delegations did not look at their trips as pleasure trips. Goa needs to participate in every promotional activity with sincerity, dedication and professionalism to get a higher share of foreign tourist arrivals in a fiercely competitive market. Informed sources reveal that there are concerns in the tourism department over considerable increase in the budget estimates for various events organised by the department. The officials are apprehensive about inviting strictures from the auditors and queries from the vigilance department. The finance department too raised serious objections to large enhancement in the budget for events and sought justification for the same. Has the budget been rising to provide larger space for corruption and for facilitating sponsored foreign trips of members of the minister’s family?
It is not being argued here that all foreign tours for promoting tourism in Goa are a waste of money. Without promotions, no one will know what attractions Goa offers. However, time and again, questions have arisen whether the money spent on promotions is giving an optimal cost-benefit ratio. The answer perhaps is in the negative. True, the number of foreign tourists is rising. But perhaps if this financially constrained state could spend its money on promotion more judiciously and innovatively and more cost effectively, the rise in foreign tourist arrivals could be greater. Sometimes, you are forced to think the tourism department does not have its eye right on the bull’s eye, but somewhere else. The current scene is that the number of tourists from the UK, which used to be the highest among countries, has been falling. Have we heard Minister Azgaonkar ever expressing concern over this fall? Has he shown any interest in devising a strategy to check the decline in the tourist arrivals from the UK? We are not saying an official delegation should not have been taken to the US cities for promoting Goa. (We are only saying that there is no need for Tourism Minister to be a part of the delegation and of course it is murkier if members of his family accompany him.) However, the UK was a country which was once giving us the highest number of international tourists. More than one delegation should go to the UK to find out why the attraction for Goa has gone down there and make the corrections to push the number from UK up again.