GOA faces tough competition from domestic and international tourist destinations, and the only way it can beat the market is by increasing its recreational range which continues to be very narrow. Hot air balloon rides were recently launched; sea plane services are expected to start soon. Tourism authorities are promising to introduce bungee jumping, kayaking, amphibious bus and seaway tour in the near future. They have a plan to build a ropeway between Panaji and Reis Magos. These new offerings promise to improve the travel experience of visitors in Goa, providing adventure, entertainment and unusual sights.
Adding special tourism attractions however has not been an easy ride for the government. Several of these have invited objections from local communities, including the fishing community, who fear that their livelihood would be affected – for instance, due to the turbulence caused by the movement of vessels in a marina or a seaplane. Local communities are major stakeholders in tourism industry and their fears cannot be brushed aside. The onus is on the government, the tourism authorities and the local representatives to allay the fears with convincing evidence that new attractions would not affect fish breeding or fish catch. The state authorities have been announcing a tourism attraction every time a new idea or a proposal is put before them without taking the local communities into confidence which creates a large space for suspicions and fears leading to objections. The authorities could do well by initiating dialogues with the stakeholders by taking help of the local panchas, sarpanchas and the legislators in educating the public and allaying their fears.
While the tourism sector has grown manifold and become one of the main sources for revenue and employment generation for the state, the development of infrastructure has terribly lagged behind. The state has not matched its tourism growth with improvement in road network and road quality or cleanliness at tourist sites. These inadequacies repel, rather than attract tourists. As the infrastructure growth has not matched tourism growth, the available infrastructure has to bear a tremendous pressure, often leading to a breaking point and chaotic situation. The growth of tourism sector provided the government a window to garner more funds prompting it to allow various other activities like electronic dance and music (EDM) festivals and casinos. These additions led to growth of various social evils normally associated with them, apart from making unbearable claims on the infrastructure.
Then there are areas that repel tourists and affect the image of Goa which the state authorities have utterly failed to tackle. Some of these areas are taxi services, garbage management and touting. The state authorities as well as local elected representatives have allowed illegitimate and inadequate services and tariff in these areas. Off and on, the authorities do issue warning that they will compel the trouble makers to mend their ways, but after the initial bluster, the issue is put on the backburner. In taxi services, the government has invariably succumbed to the service providers who want to run their services according to their own rules.
Promotion of hinterland tourism has been limited to only announcements and nothing much has moved except in few areas. The government has recently sought to amend the laws to allow temporary constructions in environment sensitive zones to promote tourism in the hinterland. It has been announcing almost every year that tourism would be taken to the hinterland. Had it really done so, it would have added to tourist attractions and helped the local population to enjoy the fruits of the growth that has widely helped people living in the coastal areas. To avoid a conflict with the “protectors” of environment during expansion into hinterland, the government must evolve a strategy by taking them into confidence and allaying their fears and drafting a transparent policy which should be followed in letter and spirit and not changed to suit the vested interests.
A master plan for development of tourism has been in the making for three and half years. Why it is taking so long, only the authorities know. There is no sign of its completion in near future as the agency which has been assigned the work of preparing it has now called for suggestions and the exercise could take a much longer time. The government ought to direct the agency to expedite the matter so that the master plan is ready at least a year before the next Assembly elections due in March 2017 and is set in motion. The master plan should be the guiding force for future development in the tourism sector but its makers should take into consideration the environment and social issues since the development of tourism in the hinterland is associated with it and give a proper direction for the tourism development of the state and make Goa a top notch tourist destination.