Close on the heels of the first G20 working group meeting in Goa, foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation will be in Goa for a meeting on May 4 and 5. Soon after, the following week, there will be another meeting of the G20 working groups and a few more in the coming months.
Goa is getting extremely busy with hosting international delegates, and recent events are giving the distinct impression that Goa is changing its tourism profile from a purely holiday destination to one where the traveller can mix business with pleasure.
They may not be the heads of state or government who are coming to Goa for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meeting, but they are the foreign ministers of member countries. Among those who have confirmed their presence are the foreign ministers of Russia, China and Pakistan.
This, therefore, is the second major meeting of international dimensions that Goa will be hosting in quick succession, having last month concluded the working group meeting on the health of the G20, over which India currently holds the presidency.
Goa’s business or conference tourism is not restricted to international meets but goes further. At a meet in Dubai last month, the state announced that Goa was looking at the possibility of attracting digital nomads to work from the beaches of the states and has even started the hashtag #WorktationGoa.
While this may be a deliberate move, there are other reasons that lead to the question of whether Goa could slowly be shedding the image of a holiday destination only.
When one looks back, Goa has come a long way from the CHOGM Retreat in 1983 to the BRICS Summit in 2016 and the SCO foreign ministers meet that is currently on.
1983 to 2023 is a long forty years between international meets, and in the current year, Goa, besides the SCO foreign ministers meet, boasts of also hosting a sprinkling of G20 working group meetings, including two on tourism.
Expectations are rife that the G20 meets and the SCO meet will sprinkle some glitter on the tourism destination – and perhaps they will – but it was the retreat of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet in 1983 that catapulted Goa to international renown.
It was this retreat that changed the course of not just tourism in Goa, but also brought benefits in the realm of development that would perhaps otherwise have taken longer to materialise.
India Today, reporting on the sprucing up of Goa, had said, “No expense or trouble is being spared to ensure that the VIPs who come to enjoy the balmy climate and breathtakingly beautiful coconut-fringed beaches of Goa, and picturesque Portuguese-style villages will have a holiday to remember.”
How many of the leaders who attended the CHOGM Retreat in 1983 remembered the holiday once they returned to their hectic schedules, is difficult to gauge. But, Goa definitely does remember that retreat and what it left behind – infrastructure that would otherwise have taken another few years to materialise.
Four decades later, there are visible reminders of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting held in the then union territory of Goa in 1983. If nothing else keeps the memories alive, there is Chogm Road which serves as a very obvious and unmissable landmark of an international summit well hosted.
There is also the Zuari Bridge which has a legendary story of how it was opened for the public by a superintendent of police who could not wait for a formal inauguration and so permitted private vehicles to use the bridge.
But not just that, starred hotels were built to house the heads of state who came for the retreat, and that truly started the luxury segment of tourism in Goa as the CHOGM retreat also brought with it a telecommunications revolution of that time for the then union territory, allowing phone services to countries across the world.
Much has changed since then. Goa in 1983 retained that pristine quality that made it an ideal choice for a weekend break for the CHOGM leaders. Goa was the site for the retreat, while the serious deliberations took place in Delhi.
BRICS in 2016 and SCO this week as well as the G20 meetings, are not events of relaxation. Goa’s profile, as purely a holiday destination to a spot where business and work can be conducted has been established.
This is a good option for Goa which allows it to diversify from a purely holiday venue to business and leisure.
Yet, it won’t be that simple, as Goa will have to change its entire tourism profile and that can’t happen in a rush; not after the decades in which Goa concentrated purely on beach tourism, ignoring other areas.