Goa is blessed abundantly, and it is this abundance that attracts tourists to this land of sun, sand and sea – not forgetting the pristine hinterlands which are still unexplored.
While the USP of Goa is still its beaches, one must realise there is enough potential for its religious heritage tourism. But the government seems to be moving ahead with a very different agenda – one that is difficult to understand.
The state has to its credit some of the oldest temples and churches with the finest ancient architectural styles in the world. One must realise that these religious places form the very core of our cultural, traditional and religious beliefs, as also define our identity.
Certainly, build religious places that were destroyed in the past, but also look at the existing ones still standing tall and needing attention. There is ample scope for ‘sacred’ tourism at heritage religious places, but, first, there has to be a resolve to involve all stakeholders in a dialogue to formulate a policy, leaving aside biases.
Goa has an opportunity to become a role model in heritage religious tourism, but there has to be a will within the government of this day to look beyond its political ambitions, which revolve around appeasing its favoured vote bank.
Religious heritage tourism has the potential to bring in quality and high-spending tourists, depending on how we project and promote our heritage sites. But, again, there has to be a will to work in this direction.
At the same time, religious tourism has to come with some added attraction for the tourists to be here. Reason: not all will come with the purpose of religious tourism alone. However, if there is a spiritual experience attached to the religious site, it surely can add to the benefit.
The spiritual quotient within the concept of religious tourism will add value to the places of heritage importance, and it will also motivate tourists to maintain decorum. Or else, we will have ugly incidents like the one we saw recently in the Old Goa heritage precinct where a female tourist was seen striking a security guard with her footwear.
The government could commence such an initiative of propagating the idea of religious tourism at some of the sites which boast of the oldest temples, churches and other religious structures in the state.
However, given the impression of the state being a place of sun, sand, beaches and parties, the idea of religious tourism may seem a tad insipid. However, Bangkok, which has several religious sites and is also known for its parties and the world's oldest profession, has proved both types of tourism can co-exist in the same space.
Once the state rebrands itself as a religious or spiritual tourism destination besides the allure of its golden beaches, it will see ripple effects in the form of jobs and business for the locals residing in close proximity to the holy sites. Local youth can be trained as guides to take people around and explain the significance of a religious place.
Great examples of religious tourism can already be seen in Old Goa and Ponda, which have some of the oldest churches and temples. All the government needs to do is rebrand this into something more relevant to send the emphatic message that Goa is more than booze and ‘good times’.