THE sooner Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar realises that its tourism department needs close monitoring to stop wasteful expenditure, favouritism and gross inefficiency the better. Nothing in tourism seems to be working that could be pleasing to the taxpayers. The department lacks a direction and focus on public interest. Tourist arrivals are declining. The Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) had written to the Chief Minister recently about the corrupt practices and indifference to real issues prevailing in the tourism department. The TTAG was hoping that Parrikar would set up strict supervision over the performance, preferences and prejudices of Tourism Minister Manohar Azgaonkar and senior officers but unfortunately his long illness has left the field open for everyone in the tourism department to ignore public interest and pursue personal interests. The tourism minister has had no interaction with the tourism industry stakeholders since he took over about two years ago. It was only a few days ago that he held his first meeting with them. The meeting discussed various issues pertaining to the industry including fall in tourist arrivals, visa fees, registration of hotels, and promotion of state as tourist destination in domestic and global markets. The stakeholders want that they be made a part of the promotion tours and road shows conducted by the Goa Tourism Development Corporation, an issue the tourism department has been skirting.
The tourism department has woken up belatedly to the problem of hotels being run without registration with the competent authorities. Registration with the tourism department and other agencies would only now be made mandatory for all hotels in operation in the state; failure to do so would invite penalties. Registration will help the government ascertain the correct number of tourist arrivals. It would also generate additional revenue by way of taxes and levies. Why did the tourism department take so long to start the campaign against unregistered hotels? The tourism industry had been asking for it for a long time. The government has lost a good amount of revenue owing to a large number of small hotels operating illegally across the state, especially in the coastal belt.
The decline in tourist arrivals should worry the government as much as it does the industry. The government needs to find out the reasons behind the decline and take corrective steps. The tourism department has still no idea whether to enforce or how to enforce the prohibition of drinking on beaches and other public places. The Travel and Tourism Association of Goa wants the government to enforce the law vigorously with deterrent measures. Such behaviour by a few tourists works as a negative factor for tourism. Another negative factor is said to be high visa fees. The state government has little role to play in lowering visa fees as it is a central subject; however, the state could try to find a way to reduce the burden on tourists. It is not that tourist arrivals are falling owing only to high visa fees. There are other fundamental issues. Unprofessional and ineffective promotion of Goa across the country and abroad is a major issue. Infrastructure is a major drawback. Roads are bad. Traffic management is poor. Beaches, the main attractions, are dirty. The GTDC has started a tourism taxi service but their fares are not very significantly lower than the private taxis that are notorious for fleecing tourists. In other cities app-based taxi services provide transport at much cheaper rates. Cheap travel should have been the motto of GTDC in supporting an app-based taxi service.
Among the many issues where the government and the TTAG do not agree is promotion of state overseas and in domestic market. The TTAG has lamented that unqualified delegates, including peons and sweepers, are sent to ‘promote’ Goa at the shows. Agencies chosen to organise Goa pavilion do a shoddy job. Ideally agencies and officers with professional skills should be given the responsibility to convince travel agents and potential tourists why they should select Goa. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar must intervene to make the tourism department take decisions in the interests of tourism, public revenue. He should no more allow them to play with the Goan taxpayers’ money for personal interests of the high and low in the tourism department. The tourism department seems to have become a golden nest for certain politicians and senior officers. They do not want to move out of the department, for the pleasures will go. Nothing but sweeping changes in the tourism department can turn it professional and efficient. If it is not done, the downslide in tourism will continue.