No scientific way of knowing exact number of tourists coming to Goa
THE Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) has disputed the tourism department’s data on tourist footfalls in the state and claimed that it was ‘inaccurate’. Tourism Minister Manohar Azgaonkar recently claimed that the number of tourist arrivals in 2018 saw an increase of 2.95 percent over 2017. Azgaonkar also claimed that there was no dip in tourism and the tourist arrival pattern this year was similar to previous years. Azgaonkar’s claim defied the reality of economic slowdown affecting tourism everywhere. The TTAG’s argument that Goa does not have a reliable system to collect accurate data on the number of tourists arriving in the state is not without basis, as the tourism department does not have a scientific system of gathering information on how many people travelling by flights to Goa are tourists and how many are visitors for business and other purposes. Some of them may be Goans returning home from visits to other cities in India or abroad. For instance, all passengers arriving by direct flights from Gulf countries such as UAE, Oman and Qatar cannot be counted as tourists as a number of them could be Goans coming home.
The tourism department has claimed that Goa recorded 80.15 lakh tourist footfalls in the year 2018 as compared to 77.85 lakh in the previous year, recording an increase of 2.3 lakh. According to the department, between January and August 2019, as many as 42 lakh tourists visited Goa, which is almost the same figure as during the preceding year. The department has never told the industry stakeholders and Goans at large how they arrived at the above-mentioned figures. There are chances of duplication or triplication of figures that might be collected from various points. Claiming increase in tourist footfalls just to present a rosy picture will not benefit the state any way. As it is, the government has been struggling to regulate the online agencies that have been booking hotel rooms and homestay in the state without the knowledge of the tourism department or any other agency of the government or panchayati raj institutions. The figures of tourist arrivals could be wrong at least for the reason of non-inclusion of occupancy facilitated by online booking companies.
The hotel industry has been claiming that there was a big fall in demand for rooms even during the peak season, which is a rare phenomenon in the state as it has been a preferred tourist destination for long. Are the online hospitality companies and travel agencies eating into the business by offering accommodation to tourists in places which are not registered with the TTAG and other agencies? The TTAG and other stakeholders have been pleading for uniform business practices so as to ensure that only those that register with government bodies and pay taxes are allowed to operate. After much dilly-dallying the government has decided to enforce the rules to bring all in the hospitality sector on board and ensure compulsory registration of all hospitality companies and travel agencies. It remains to be seen as to when the government will notify the amended rules framed under the Goa Registration of Tourist Trade Act 1982 which will help check the practice of booking of rooms in hotels not registered with the government and by online companies.
We hope the tourism department frames appropriate rules at the earliest and implements them strictly in order to regulate the online agencies and unregistered hotels. Unchecked illegalities not only deprive the government of taxes; they also leave room for criminal activities. Though the police and panchayats have the rules by which the owners leasing properties to tourists have to inform them, many of them avoid the process. The TTAG has been demanding that all the companies and owners of properties offering homestay and room occupancy in unregistered hotels, lodges and guest houses should be compelled to join a fair competition with the registered stakeholders. To encourage voluntary registration of tourism-related businesses by their owners, the online agencies and illegally run properties the government should lay down a hassle-free process. Only if the government brings all in the hospitality business under the ambit of rules and makes them comply with them we can hope it will arrive at correct figures of tourist arrivals in the state.