The Biting Teeth

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Tourism department must enforce the laws to regulate the lawless

THE tourist department’s efforts to regulate hotels operating illegally appear to be yielding results with around 200 owners of small guest houses seeking to register with them. An unknown number of small hotels, lodges, guest houses and private homes have for years evaded legal procedures, registration fees and taxes while hiring out rooms to tourists. The hotels that are registered and law-abiding have often alleged in public that unregistered hotels are eating into their business by offering low tariffs because they can avoid taxes. The tourism department did not act strongly against unregistered hotels, triggering allegations that the illegal operators were keeping politicians and officers in good humour. We do not know how seriously the tourism department will pursue its plan of getting all unregistered hotels, lodges, guest houses and private homes under regulation. Fairness demands that the department must do it without fear or favour. Because the unregistered hotels and homes do not only cause loss of revenue to the state, but also get away with offering substandard services to their customers.

If the efforts of the tourism department to deal with illegal operators continue relentlessly, it will pay dividends. The Tourism Minister should also discuss the matter at the appropriate levels of the government and get the amendment to the Goa Registration of the Tourist Trade Rules Act, 1985, notified. If the amendment is notified, the tourism department will find itself more equipped in legal terms to deal with unregistered hotels and homes. The amended rules are expected to come into effect from April 1, 2021. The government should also come out with a new policy to deal with the loopholes that online travel agencies adopt to evade paying taxes. The scope for manipulations by online travel agencies should be closed. It must be made mandatory for online agencies to book rooms only in registered hotels. The online agencies should be forced to seek registration details of the hospitality provider before booking any of their rooms. So far only one online travel booking agency has agreed to abide by the rules. Bringing all online travel booking agencies and hotels and homes under regulation would help everyone: the agencies, the hotels and homes, the government and the registered hotels.

At the same time, the government needs to help the law-abiding hotels tide over the aftermath of the crisis caused by the pandemic.  In the pandemic hotels were shut down for almost six months. Though other sectors sought subsidies and other monetary incentives to overcome the setback from the pandemic and got some, if not all, they had demanded. The tourism stakeholders have demanded that their fees and taxes be adjusted and they be provided relief by adjusting the same for the subsequent period. They also sought remission in electrical bills as they remained closed for half a year without any earnings but they were charged full amount by the electricity department. There is some merit in their plea.

Representing the stakeholders, the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa has refrained from seeking subsidies from the government in view of the tight economic position of the government. They have only asked for adjustment and remission in the payments they have to make to the various departments of the government. The government should consider their demand sympathetically. The government should also start granting permissions to hotels that are valid for five years as the central government does. Renewing the licence every year is time consuming.  If the licences are granted for five years and total fees due for the period could be charged simultaneously by the government which will thus collect good revenue, and in one go. With lesser number of officials to deal with routine works of registration and renewals the tourism department can depute more staff for chasing the persons running hotels and private homes without registration and without paying taxes. However, the government should also put in place a strong mechanism to curb any violations of rules by the hotels after getting five-year licence. The licence of the violator should be withdrawn or suspended. In short, there is need for the tourism department to start biting with its legal teeth.