Government and industry must partner to get more tourists
Fears expressed by the tourism industry in the earlier months about possible fall in numbers of tourist arrivals even in the peak season appear to have come true. The occupancy in most hotels across the state is poorer than in the past. While 60 per cent of the hotels in North Goa are witnessing poor occupancy, the situation in South Goa is no better. There are no hopes of any early turnaround. According to the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG), there has been between 40 and 50 per cent fall in foreign tourist arrivals. The fall in arrival of foreign tourists has largely been attributed to collapse of Thomas Cook-UK, which used to bring close to 35,000 British tourists to the state. The state was hoping to make up for the shortfall in foreign tourist arrivals with increase in domestic tourist arrivals but these hopes have been dashed by volatile weather witnessed in several parts of the country. The domestic tourist arrivals are also adversely influenced by extremely high flight tickets to and from Goa.
In the past the hotel industry used to make the most during the peak season with premium rates. However, faced with a bleak scene, the hoteliers have lowered tariffs to check the fall in occupancy. Despite that occupancy is not rising. On the contrary, probably owing to the falling disposable incomes in the hands of the middle class, there have been cancellations of hotel bookings by tourists from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Industry captains have not ruled out the possibility of price war among themselves to attract tourists. Though hoteliers are expecting room occupancy to peak with Christmas and New Year celebrations, they also fear that the rise in income from increase in tourist inflow will be offset by lower tariffs. There is also a fear expressed by the industry that with the lowering of tariffs Goa could get the tag of being a cheap destination and attract classes of tourists that might have a smaller purse to spend on entertainments, food and purchases.
The industry blames the tourism department for failing to promote the state in the domestic and foreign markets appropriately, adequately and aggressively, and not entirely without some justification. The tourism department has not been using its funds for promotion effectively. Some of the other states have done far better in attracting a good flow of tourists, both domestic and foreign, in spite of the general economic slowdown. The state tourism department cannot sit and hope for domestic and foreign tourists to come merely because Goa had earned the reputation of being a popular destination for tourists for its beaches and natural beauty. There has been little value addition to the natural beauties of Goa to induce repeat visits of tourists or visits of higher-end tourists. Projects that could add value to tourism have been hanging fire and the tourism department has shown no urgency and drive to get them on fast track. Earlier, the department promoted Goa as a monsoon destination. This year, the flow of tourists during monsoon was very low.
It is not that the bleak tourism scenario for the state developed overnight. Despite the knowledge of collapse of Thomas Cook-UK, the government did nothing to address the situation and ensure operation of alternative charters. Here the tourism department should have been proactive and found alternatives, but they failed to do so, after Air India turned down the state request. The tourism department has also failed to focus on markets other than the traditional ones which could give them tourists. The tourism department and the industry are not on the same wavelength on steps to increase the tourist inflow by giving in to the demands of travel agents to provide the kind of incentives that might prove unsustainable. There is need for highly professional, focused and impactful handling of tourism promotion. The tourism industry must be taken on board by the tourism department for formulating strategies. It is extremely necessary for them to meet regularly and coordinate in execution of decisions to stem the decline in tourist arrivals. Failures and setbacks can also be opportunities to learn and innovate for both the government as well as the industry.