Need for government to sincerely engage with tourism stakeholders
Concerned over fall in foreign tourist arrivals, the Goa tourism industry stakeholders are disappointed by the lack of government efforts to improve international flight connectivity to the state. As arrivals in the ongoing season are hit by insufficient landing slots to foreign airlines at the Goa international airport at Dabolim, the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, apex body of hotel and tourism industry, wants the government to intervene to remedy the situation before it is too late. International charter operators are willing to fly tourists to Goa but are unable to operate flights because of lack of landing and takeoff slots at the Dabolim airport. The tourism stakeholders want the government to have dialogue with the Navy that controls the operations at the airport in order to get more slots for operation of charter flights. The operational time at the Dabolim airport is limited as the Navy carries out training sorties for its staff and undertakes other exercises between 8.30 am and 12 pm during which time civilian aircraft operations are not allowed. The Goa tourism industry claims that charter flights are being flown to destinations that compete with Goa due to lower rates and easy landing and takeoff slots. The industry says occupancy did not improve despite lowering of tariff in Goa, because other issues constraining the flow of tourists remained unresolved.
Tourism was hit at the very beginning of the season with Thomas Cook UK, which used to bring over 35,000 tourists from the United Kingdom, going bankrupt and ceasing operations. The remedial measures announced by the state government failed to take off. The promised charter flights operated by Air India proved to be a non-starter. Hotels in the northern coastal belt have been reporting occupancy between 40 and 50 per cent even during the peak season. There is merit in the criticism by the tourism stakeholders that the state government had also failed to address the other issues raised by them including further reduction in Goods and Services Tax (GST), rationalisation of hike in excise duties on alcohol imposed in the Goa Budget 2020-21, the problems caused by unruly and overcharging taxi operators and licensing and renewal of licences of hotels.
There was a round table meeting last week on ‘Goa Tourism Vision 2035: Shaping the path of progress’ which was attended by representatives of the associations of tourism stakeholders and representatives of the government. Though officers of the tourism department were there and even Chief Minister Pramod Sawant attended it during the second half, Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar chose to stay away from a brainstorming that was for drawing the contours of Goa tourism for the next decade and a half. Either the tourism minister has his own vision and plans for developing tourism in the state in the next decade and a half or he does not have interest in how it develops. Indifference can only lead tourism development to a wall. Tourism is a major sector of the state’s economy and generator of a significant share of employment. It is necessary that the tourism department plays a really visionary and proactive role in developing tourism. Planning and promotion of tourism has to be done with the active participation of all stakeholders. The government and captains of tourism industry should join hands to develop tourism and promote Goa as a top class tourist destination and take it to greater heights by evolving a sound strategy.
It takes decades for a region to develop as a favourite destination, but it can lose its charm if it turns unimpressive. The state government has been talking of a tourism policy and a tourism master plan for almost a decade but there is no sign of them. Delay in preparation of roadmap for tourism development could lead to haphazard development and lack of innovation in natural and recreational attractions which could negatively affect tourist perception. Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar must prove himself worthy of holding his position by making a difference to the tourism sector. His leadership has been lacklustre so far. The keenness, engagement, the far-sightedness and the understanding that is expected of a minister to lead and guide his officers and to fruitfully exchange ideas on a regular basis with tourism stakeholders is missing.