Goa’s unsavoury run-ins with tourist deaths draw attention to the State that bestow upon it a notoriety singling it out for some media bashing.
There were headlines like ‘Paradise Lost: Goa continues to be a drug mafia magnet’, ‘Drugs, prostitution and Goa’s battle to revive tourism’ and others. Each portrayed a side of Goa that is not complimentary to the State or its tourism.
But on the eve of World Tourism Day, the industry does not appear too worried that this negative coverage could affect tourism footfalls or mar the State's brand image.
“Goa is more than a party scene. Drugs is a serious issue from a moral point of view that has to be controlled,” Jack Sukhija told gomantaktimes.com.
Sukhija, a tourism professional who runs a hotel in Panjim, added, “Goa has got several segments of tourists that it attracts. The party scene is curtailed to a section of North Goa. When you look at Goa as a family destination, people are looking at going all over the State. As a family destination, people are aware that these things happen in a particular area.”
Yet, for a State that in the pre-pandemic period averaged millions of tourist footfalls a year, statements like ‘destination for narco tourism’ are definitely going to hurt in some manner and there is a consensus that the drug scene has to be dealt with.
Nilesh Shah, President of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa said, “Any negative publicity is bad for Goa. It is for the government to act so that Goa does not lose its charm as a family tourist destination. Every tourist destination will have a drug fallout, it all depends on how we reposition ourselves and how we act tough on the drug menace that will go a long way in sending the right message and help the industry.”
What emerged is families travelling to Goa, and this is a segment that the State cannot lose to negative drug destination publicity. “It should not be that families will stop coming to Goa, so action taken should be projected and the guilty punished. There should be a deterrent not to indulge in this trade,” Shah said.
But when the tourism industry speaks of repositioning, there is still much introspection to be done before a final blueprint can be released. This year’s World Tourism Day theme ‘Rethinking Tourism’ should, however, lead Goa to do some serious introspection on the manner in which the industry is progressing in the State.
“There are two aspects that can be derived from that theme – because tourism was on the back burner due to Covid, we should start rethinking tourism, also, Goa as a brand has to bring in its heritage, cultural aspects to the forefront along with sustainability,” Shah said.
This was endorsed by Sukhija. “We do need to reposition Goa better, but more than the brand we need to ensure there is maintenance. There has to be consciousness also.”
He proffers the example of Fontainhas, where residents are continuously disturbed by tourists posing on the streets and against people’s doorways, windows for photos they can upload on social media.
But for now, there are other pressing worries for Goa Tourism. Post Covid, Goa received a large number of tourists in what is being described as revenge tourism. It was, however, restricted to domestic tourists that have grown in number, while the number of international tourists has dropped due to several factors, primarily travel restrictions.
A week away from the season’s opening, it is the travel restrictions that have the industry anxious, especially the withdrawal of e-visa facilities for nationals of certain countries. This was also communicated to the Centre by Tourism Minister Rohan Khaunte who a week ago addressing the National Conference of State tourism ministers urged the Tourism Ministry to allow e-visa facilities for UK tourists.
Against the backdrop of negative publicity and e-visa issues, Goa’s upcoming tourism season may face some unstable moments, just when it was looking forward to recovering from the two years of pandemic restrictions.