Not-so-pleasant-to-eye images of New Year revellers – totally wasted from the previous night’s boozing – sprawled on Goan beaches and sidewalks, littered with garbage, splashed in the newspapers and social media have battered Goa’s image like never before.
It was a picture of unseemly crowd and filth, so in contrast with the florid pictures that followed the New Year’s celebrations in Goa in the past.
Hard on its heels, came the disheartening news of a dismal year-end performance by the mid and budget segments of the state’s hotel industry. Amidst all this, one just couldn’t miss how intricately these two are linked to Goa’s story of change.
The story goes back not too distant in the past, when Goa was a place – miles away from the madding crowd – that served sea, sun and sand with an alluring warmth.
Those hypnotized by its earthy charm kept returning for more – it was a heady brew of Goan susegad, music, culture, food, civic sense and unwavering hospitality. Back then, Goa was also a stickler for service standards.
It was this ‘Goanness’, a word embodying everything Goan, that sustained the tiny coastal state’s tourism sector. And then began the erosion of ‘Goanness’ – layer by layer – by the winds of change. It started a process of irreversible alteration of the state’s DNA.
It was triggered by Goans leaving the state for better prospects outside to maintain their lifestyle, which they felt was slipping with declining business. As they did this, they took with them its essence or ‘Goanness’ – the very core of its being.
Goa may be one of the tiniest states in the country but it has been consistently topping in per capital income. Its net state domestic product (NSDP) per capita, at current price, was the highest in India at Rs 4,72,070 ($20,148 at purchasing power parity) in 2021-22, up from Rs 4,31,351 in 2020-21.
This has kept the aspirations of an average Goan above his counterparts in other parts of the country. It is to fulfil such aspirations that many have migrated to far-off shores of the Gulf, Europe, US, Australia and wherever else they can sniff opportunity to improve their standard of living or quality of life.
A pre-pandemic estimate puts the number of Goans living abroad at close to 60,000. This must have risen considerably today.
As Goans chased their aspirations overseas, they left a huge hole of manpower in the hospitality sector, which started getting filled by people from outside. And thus, a whole process of Goa’s transformation was initiated.
The influx of workforce from other states has brought with it new attitudes and cultures, which fiercely conflicts with the ‘Goanness’ of the place, once considered close to being a utopian Indian state.
Those migrating to Goa are not just white-collar professionals. A large part of the migrants are blue-collared workers. This is because the natives of Goa, which is among the states with highest average literacy rate, hesitate in taking up these jobs.
Based on National Statistic Organisation (NSO) data, Goa was at the sixth position among Indian states in terms of average literacy rate at 87.4 per cent in 2023.
In the same year, Kerala topped the list with an average literacy rate of 96.2 per cent, followed by Mizoram (91.58 per cent), Delhi (88.7 per cent), Tripura (87.75 per cent) and Uttarakhand (87.6 per cent).
Blue-collared jobs are mostly manned by people from states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and other states with low per capital income and literacy rate. As per NSO, the average literacy rates of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were 70.9 per cent and 73 per cent respectively in 2023.
The two states logged in NSDP per capita of Rs 47,498 ($2027) and Rs 73,048 ($3118) respectively in 2021-22.
The changing demographic profile of Goa has tweaked its DNA. A rough estimate of immigrants from across India, who were settled in Goa, was over 10 per cent – between 1.5 lakh and two lakh – of the state’s population of around 13.43 lakh some years back.
As immigrants replace migrating Goans, the state is slowly losing its ‘Goanness’, a hallmark of impeccable service standards. It is becoming like any other destination in the country.
A senior executive of a travel and tourism body complained about the deteriorating service levels in the low and mid-hotel segments. The offerings of these segments are attracting unruly tourists with little or no civic sense, often becoming a nuisance for the locals, who treasure their peaceful and simple living.
Somehow, high-end and five-star hotels have been able to maintain their service levels through rigorous training and stringent protocols. This has helped them keep their occupancy rates up.
Distressingly, an attitude of ‘Goa mein sab chalta hai’ or viewing it as a safe haven for everything illegal – drugs, gambling, betting, touting, human trafficking and host of such activities – has attracted anti-social elements and is tarnishing the state’s image.
All this is adversely affecting the occupancy rates of hotels in low and mid segments.
And if this continues, it will be a downhill journey for the state’s tourism. It’s now up to the stakeholders of Goa’s tourism sector to make a course correction and bring the Goan ethos back or perish.
It’s also for the immigrants, who have made Goa their home, to embrace ‘Goanness’ to avert the murder of the state’s soul, which is crying out for help.