Francisco Braganca, president, Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) is candid about the Goa’s tourism scene and what is required for the future. Excerpts from Times of India interview.
Does Goa require an upgrade of infrastructure?
Yes, but you cannot blame the government totally. The present government had announced many plans to upgrade infrastructure when it came to power in March 2013. Unfortunately, the ban on mining has curtailed its ability to deliver. Also, the negative attitude and objections from NGOs and locals to each and every idea mooted by the industry without providing alternatives is proving to be a hurdle. Our tourist spots still don’t have adequate civic amenities. Things are gradually improving though it may not be in line with our expectations.
Can private enterprise chip in to provide infrastructure?
Yes. In certain areas private enterprise can deliver successfully. Private investments in golf courses, marinas, entertainment parks, entertainment centres, museums, aquariums, convention centres. The government should stay out of running tourism-related businesses and should act as a catalyst. Yet, the government is shying away from including private players in its plans, maybe because of public opposition.
Too much government money is being spent on state-run businesses which are only incurring losses. The government should invite international players to start various tourism-related activities in Goa. It should encourage international scheduled airlines to land directly in Goa. Goa has to be developed as a hub for domestic airlines going international. The public does not seem to understand that such activities can raise the standard of tourism and bring in increased revenue for the state.
The government has to urgently finalize the Regional Plan (RP) 2021 which permits such projects. The proposed master plan for tourism should also be completed so that we can have expert opinion on whether such projects are required for Goa or not.
Our tourism has become beach-centric. We will have to permit development of hotels in orchard lands by allowing a higher FSI but without causing damage to the environment. This approach will also prevent the over-urbanization of Goa and will help in advancing low-density development of the hinterland. The most expensive destinations in the world are on the hills.
What should be the blueprint at this stage for promoting Goa?
Clear the garbage, provide sewage networks, and clean the beaches and rivers. Build good infrastructure in terms of roads, power and water supply, sewage networks. Don’t spend on high-end infrastructure instead invest in basic infrastructure and in developing soft-skilled manpower. Bring in a change in the Goan mindset. There has to be a concerted effort towards imparting training en masse.
Comment on the slowdown of tourist inflow from conventional markets over the last few years.
The principle cause is the collapse of western economies, which has resulted in a reduction in disposable incomes. No destination can now rely on just one particular market. The tourism market the world over is ever-changing and we need to keep pace. But it is a good sign that we are now attracting new markets, and we need to encourage this trend.
Some industry observers say the phenomenal increase in Russian tourists is keeping European tourists away from Goa. What do you think?
The Russian is also (partly) European. Every tourist, irrespective of nationality, is a tourist. Any country that desires to grow as a tourist destination cannot make distinctions based on the origin of the country, so long as the tourist abides by local laws. The Russians’ behavior is not any worse than domestic tourists.
What is affecting the flow of European tourists is the tendency among domestic male tourists to huddle together and ogle and invade the privacy of European tourists by photographing them in their bikinis. The Russians don’t indulge in such things. We need to curtail this behavior of the domestic tourists. I have personally seen this happening and it is frightening.
What are the problem areas for the growth of tourism in Goa?
In the early ’80s we saw the charter movement, which slowly peaked in later years. Europeans felt comfortable in Goa, which was perhaps the only state which accepted bikinis and provided Western cuisine in its restaurants. But slowly a segment of domestic tourists started encroaching on the privacy of European tourists, which perhaps is one reason the inflow of charter tourists has not grown at the pace it was expected to grow. The numbers may increase but the percentage of increase is falling.
Goa has lost its ethnic beauty and pure innocence and has started aping the material west. So, the west is not finding Goa attractive anymore. In the name of infrastructure we are building concrete structures and monstrosities in our haste to make Goa a metro city.
Is the government supportive of tourism?
When the BJP-led government took over we had very high expectations knowing well the capacity of our chief minister to grasp and handle any issue. Unfortunately, soon after he took over, the mining ban has starved him of finances to achieve his objectives and promises. But I must say within the limited resources at his command he is doing a wonderful job. He has kept the state afloat despite of loss of huge revenue on account of the ban on mining and a very unfriendly Centre. Yes, he has been supportive to tourism.
Can you pinpoint drawbacks in the government’s approach towards tourism?
Very often politics takes precedence over expediency. For instance, the taxi issue. It has been hanging fire for a couple of years. Even the chief minister has fallen prey to the political machinations of taxi drivers who are perceived by the local MLAs as a vote-bank.
In all surveys conducted to find problem areas of Goa the bad behaviour and exorbitant charges by tourist taxi drivers tops the list. Garbage is the second-most important issue. The chief minister has repeatedly told me that he is taking various measures to solve the garbage problem. But so far I have not seen anything happening on the ground. Knowing him, I am sure he will provide a solution to the problem. So let us give him some more time in view of the fact that since last year he has been fighting a battle to recoup his finances.
Why do you think the government is reluctant to constitute a tourism promotion board despite its announcement 18 months ago?
The best tourist destinations in the world have tourism promotion boards to regulate tourism in all its spheres. But our government seems to have a false notion that the tourism board will usurp the power of the tourism ministry. This is incorrect because the chairman of the tourism board is most often the tourism minister. Members of the board come from various walks of life. It brings on board a much wider experience and independence in decision-making and can be an effective instrument of development and change.