Mere warnings will not help end violations in tourism sector
Tourism Minister Manohar Azgaonkar has said the government will act against the persons who have been running hotels and homestays without registering their premises with the tourism department. He has warned they will be barred from letting their accommodations out to tourists in case they fail to register with the government. He has directed the officers of his department to prevent unregistered hotels, lodges, guest houses and homestays from accepting bookings till they register with the department. This is a serious warning from the Tourism Minister. However, the question is: how serious is he in carrying out his warning? As we know, and so does the Tourism Minister, the existing laws are adequate to initiate action against unregistered hotels and homestays. This is not the first time that Azgaonkar has spoken about acting against those violating the laws. He had said on several occasions earlier that the government would act sternly against the violators but somehow failed to take action. It is well known that an increasing number of tourists seek services of online hospitality companies like Oyo which are operating illegally and offer homestays and hotel accommodations, many of which are operating illegally.
Illegal operations not only come in the way of collection of exact data about flow of tourists into the state but also deprive the state of revenue from it. Such illegal operations have been going on for decades. The Travel and Tourism Association of Goa and other stakeholders have been raising the issue for a long time: they say while registered hotels have to pay taxes and various surcharges to the government, the unregistered ones get away without paying anything to the public kitty. By pegging their room rents to low levels they also eat substantially into the businesses of legal operators. The fact that the tourism department has been giving false assurances to the stakeholders that they would take action “soon” to force unregistered operators to register themselves and pay all the taxes legitimately only shows that the intention of the minister and officers of the department is contrary to their promise. There are allegations that many of the unregistered operators enjoy political patronage. As for the homestays, the tourism department can always crack down on the online agencies that do the bookings. The department can also do its own check on the web to find the addresses and contact numbers of the owners of houses or flats who are hiring out their places for homestays.
As long as all the hotels and homestays are not registered, the government would find it hard to frame appropriate policies or take steps for improvement in infrastructure development to give a boost to the tourism sector. According to the Tourism Minister himself, while the government data showed that 88 lakh people visited Goa in the last tourist season, the data compiled by KPMG, a consultancy firm, revealed that 1.5 crore tourists came to the state. This indicates that nearly half the number of tourists used the services provided by online operators who used unregistered rooms and derived pecuniary benefits but denied the state its legitimate dues. Since the tourism department has not taken action over the years, the mismatch in the real and official data has been growing.
Every stream of tourism business has its illegal sub-streams. It is not just unregistered hotels and homestays, but also other businesses, such as taxis. Much as in the case of unregistered hotels, the government has not been able to enforce meters on private taxis. Though the government brought in GoaMiles to offer an app-based alternative to private taxis it has failed to give GoaMiles a level playing field by not acting against the elements that have been charging tourists and locals exorbitantly and attacking the drivers of GoaMiles taxis. Issuing warnings and giving assurances now and then and not doing anything to curb illegal and unfair practices in the various sub-streams of the tourism business is going to prove damaging to the sector in the long run. The government has to devise a no-nonsense strategy to deal with the cheats and ensure that businesses are run transparently to benefit Goa and Goans.