I remember coming to Goa as a kid in the early 80s for my summer vacations and listening to stories of the hippie trails of the early 60s and late 70s in the North. The tales got the better of me and I was more than eager to see who these hippies were.
So, when I arrived on Palolem Beach, every time, I mistook all foreigners for hippies.
I had my first brush with a group of hippies at the far right corner of the beach and learned from my elders that most of these scantily clothed people chose to be in Anjuna, Vagator and Baga because of the easy availability of dope.
The hippies had no inhibitions about wandering covered in nothing much, leaving little to the imagination. It was their self-expression, their way of life.
They had no prejudices towards anyone. And, as far as I know, Goans were happy to have them around because they never intruded into their space. That's how the hippies made their way into the hearts and homes of the Goans.
Hippie trails have certainly left happy tales for us to remember, and I thank these happy people for proclaiming Goa to the world, which soon led to a charter boom and tourism became a way of life for many.
But far from the days of the hippies to the charters to what we see today, Goa is not that picture-perfect postcard paradise we saw in the 80s and 90s. The garbage-strewn beaches are far removed from what Goa was once upon a time.
No matter the approach the state adopts to project Goa as a world-class tourism destination, ground reality speaks for itself. But, today, that's not my discourse.
Today, I will touch upon how Goa can be where it has to be – a shining star on the world tourism map.
For a start, the government will have to acknowledge that we are not an ideal tourism destination and far from being perfect. If we admit that, it will allow us to see where we are lacking and carry out course corrections.
Well, what I am saying will sound more relevant five or ten years from now, but I have to write it today to avert the oncoming danger. The first danger I see is unchecked mass tourism that brings tourists here just for the booze.
Many of the stakeholders who thrive on such tourism will not be happy, but they will have to realise that in the long run, this kind of tourism will kill their livelihoods forever. In such a scenario, Goa will do well to adopt measures to keep these sorts of tourists away and focus on business models that will attract quality rather than quantity.
The influence of social media, travel influencers and Bollywood films on Goa tourism has been enormous. I can easily say these factors drive the young tourist traffic to Goa, which, in a way, is good. But, these young domestic tourists have been found wanting in their behaviour.
The Goa government will have to come out with do's and don'ts for such tourists who feel like they have a ticket to do things on their terms when they are here. Gently, but subtly, through various mediums, the government will have to tell tourists their holiday does not give them the freedom to go roughshod and inconvenience locals in any manner.
The government would do well to come out with a code of ethics for tourism on the lines of the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism, which is a fundamental frame of reference for responsible and sustainable tourism.
The government will have to come up with a separate plan to tackle waste accumulated as a result of tourism. If one happens to be on most of the beaches of Goa, barring a few, waste ranging from plastic and glass bottles, plastic and paper cups and food wrappers is a common sight.
The waste on the beaches indicates that law enforcement is lacking despite the government's tall promises. The garbage-strewn beaches will drive away the good tourist traffic and attract cheap travellers. And it has already started happening.
So, it's time to acknowledge that our once-tidy home needs a clean-up. If Goa is to shine, we will have to write happy tales and leave a happy trail for tourists to follow and for tourism to flourish.