By the time the concluding G20 Working Group Meeting winds up, a Goa roadmap for tourism will be in place. I was wondering whether those preparing the roadmap have a finger on the pulse of the State tourism's ground realities.
The first thing that comes to mind is whether the roadmap will have strategies in place to ensure it creates a better touristy Goa, not only for visiting travellers but also for locals and tourism stakeholders.
Presently, Goa attracts most tourists for its beaches (this can be construed as mass tourism over which there is no control); recreational tourism (for those who want to escape the daily grind of life); and, in the last segment, there are those who come here for the parties and drugs.
Goa is besieged with the issue of mass tourism that has largely remained uncontrolled and has seen locals and tourists clash at regular intervals. While the government goes all out to appease tourists, it gives very little importance to how locals perceive these guests.
The State has been besieged with the problem of plastic waste, and a big percentage of it can be attributed to mass tourism. This problem is not only in Goa but throughout the world. The roadmap will have to address this menace which has left our coastline polluted.
The government, which has not been able to address the issues related to coastal tourism, is now looking at "Goa beyond beaches" which is a scary idea. It raises a pertinent question: After the annihilation of our beaches, is it now the turn of the hinterlands?
The State government is ready to offer our hinterlands to tourists at a time when it has not been able to address the issue of plastic pollution on our beaches, and also take care of other pressing problems on the ground. This means we will have these same insurmountable problems of the coast now in our interiors.
There is enough plastic waste in our forests already which the Forest Department has not been able to take care of. State institutions and NGOs have taken pains to clean these green areas with their bare hands recently on the occasion of World Environment Day.
The G20 roadmap for tourism should help the government in formulating a strong strategy to implement the concept of "responsible tourism" in all seriousness and not just confine it to rhetoric.
Responsible tourism will mean the government will have to take a tough call on even saying no or limiting tourism on beaches like Calangute and Baga, which are at the receiving end of mass domestic tourism.
The biodiversity of these beaches has certainly suffered which merits a detailed qualitative study to know whether any real harm has been done. In 2018, Thailand banned entry to travellers to some of its tourist places so that nature there could rejuvenate and be saved.
The State government will have to undertake a study of the beaches in Goa which see a mass influx of tourists in the peak season. If a change is required, it will have to come up with a clear course of action to implement the same.
If Goa has to gradually rid itself of mass tourism or lessen its effects, it will have to focus on attracting high-spending tourists by offering unique experiences. But the government must realise that high spenders will not come to a place which is full of cheap tourists seeking cheap thrills like booze and dirty beaches.
It will have to be seen what the G20 roadmap for Goa tourism suggests and accordingly tune that document to suit our interests by focusing on our natural resources.
Meanwhile, the Goa government will do good to shift its focus on a quality and environmental approach to tourism by creating awareness among its institutions, departments and its top officers.
What is needed is an attitudinal shift in mindsets to look at tourism as a vehicle of change and sustenance to save what is around and not degrade what is in existence. This part is difficult, but many travel destinations have adapted to this concept.
For that, the State government will have to ensure that a major chunk of the tourism business or activities stays in the hands of locals because they have an emotional connection to their homeland.
The G20 roadmap will be an exercise in futility if it fails to address core issues facing Goa tourism and put it on the road to finding a new way forward.