As the tourism season peaks in Goa, the government, under mounting pressure, is gearing up to welcome tourists from all around the world.
Goa this year is expecting unprecedented tourist numbers in the first season that opens fully after the Covid pandemic. As per official estimates, prior to the pandemic, the state witnessed close to 90 lakh tourists, including around 9 lakh foreigners.
Although tourism is one of the primary sources of income for the state, the authorities this time are planning to impose restrictions, including substantial fines to keep the crowd in control.
The authorities are also planning on strengthening the penal provisions of the law in the popular destinations and beaches where crowds throng the area creating mess, including littering, drinking on the beach and abandoning the bottles there, and cooking along the streets, among others, officials said.
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“We believe in responsible and sustainable tourism. But there are certain new practices. People come to the beaches, break beer bottles, and leave empty beer bottles. The law was not clear on this so far, so we have issued a notification specifying the banned ‘nuisance activities’ because it is important that they are stopped immediately and we have placed substantial fines,” Tourism Minister Rohan Khaunte said.
Moreover, the local residents, mainly from the capital city of Panaji have complained to the authorities about tourists spoiling the roads, and footpaths in the city including traffic jams and chaos all around.
“Panjimites are angry, frustrated and under a lot of stress, due to different factors like parking, traffic jams, photo shoots by tourists in our residential areas, broken footpaths, potholed roads etc. Our city is not at all healthy. It’s getting sicker and sicker by the day, and yet the government is planning more projects on existing recreational spaces,” Patricia Pinto a former councillor of the Corporation of the City of Panaji said.
Alleging that the government’s entire focus is on gambling, fun and entertainment for revenue generation, Arminio Ribeiro, an architect and town planner, and member of the conservation committee of the Corporation of the City of Panaji raised questions on the future projects planned for the city which eventually will come at the cost of the locals.
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“Panaji as a unique cultural and heritage city is ignored. Instead, the entire focus is on gambling, fun and entertainment. As citizens of the city, we are concerned with the chaos from unregulated traffic, loss of our public waterfront spaces, and the image of our city from a heritage city to a casino city,” Ribeiro said.
Locals have also challenged and are up in arms against the Goa Tourism Department’s proposal of converting the children’s park in Panjim into a ‘waste to art park’ saying that tourism promotion will come at the cost of local welfare.
Recreational spaces on the waterfront have already made way for casino lounges, Pinto said.
“…And if the proposed ‘waste to water park’ will be formed, this will mean the best garden in Panjim maintained by the forest department would have a manned ticket entry, would be closed to our children, taking away their play space, and a recreational space where we could relax, rejuvenate, and socialise would be lost to us forever. Nobody has the right to snatch them away from us,” added Pinto.
“Tourists are free to share our space, we welcome them. But developing it for them and locking us out is a definite no,” she said.
The plan was finally withdrawn and will instead be set up elsewhere after opposition, but the capital city is feeling the pressure.
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The tourism industry, however, said the numbers were a ‘good sign’. “Last year after the pandemic subsided, we had what was called revenge tourism. This year we will be receiving foreign tourists as well, which will help diversify our clientele. We need a diverse set of tourists in order that all categories of stakeholders are satisfied. A lot of small hotels and guesthouses depend on domestic tourists,” the president of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa said.
“At the same time, we want to promote Goa as a safe and favourable experience for all including those looking for family tourism. It will help if we can keep the beaches clean, and offer different adventure experiences so we can attract the right kind of tourists,” he added.
“If I speak about limitations it will sound like an excuse. We will use our resources to take stringent action,” Police Inspector Dattaguru Sawant of the Calangute Police station said.
But law enforcement agencies admit that resources are stretched.
“In the long run, we have to promote Goa as a quality tourism destination and quality tourists to come into the state which will help us in employment and help the industry in terms of economics. We are equally accountable to our people,” the tourism minister said when asked will the state be able to handle the numbers with Goa set to get a second airport over the coming months bringing more tourists and forming a greater number of destinations.
Goa’s tourism sector is a big source of revenue for the state. The tourism industry in Goa directly contributes 16.43% towards the state’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and also provides employment to nearly 35% of the state’s population that is dependent on the sector, according to official estimates.