Goa Tourism is agog with the news that foreign charters have begun flights to the State and international cruise ships have stopped at the Mormugao port in the current tourism season. The first international cruise ship arrived on November 17 morning bringing some 600-plus passengers.
A flight from Russia will bring 258 passengers three times a week, making a total of 774 travellers at full capacity in a seven-day period. A charter from England with 200 passengers has also begun landings. All these are adding to the tourist footfalls in the State.
The questions, however, are whether these will turn around tourism in the State. Are not the thousands of domestic tourists who arrive daily on flights, trains, buses, cars and splurge on hotels, tours, cruises and restaurants doing it already? For the past two years since July 2020 when Goa partially opened up for tourism post the lockdowns, it is the domestic tourists that kept the industry in the State from going under.
We saw revenge tourism with people who had been cooped up at home getting out of their homes and states and travelling for holidays. It has increased the number of domestic tourists by a large number.
In a post-pandemic scenario where international travel has still not reached pre-2020 levels and when other States in India have discovered the value of domestic tourism, Goa appears to be caught in a mental block where it believes that only charter tourism is the answer to the revival of tourism.
Goa’s dependence on charter tourism for international travellers has been exposed in the immediate past and the current season, as tourists from within the country flocked to the State.
There is no doubt that Goa needs and wants foreign tourists, but can tourism in the coastal State survive if domestic footfalls drop? This is the largest segment of tourists that the State gets, and the past two years have shown that dependency on foreign tourists has been highly overrated in Goa. The industry managed to stay afloat buoyed by domestic footfalls.
Walk onto the popular beaches of Goa – Calangute, Colva, Miramar, Anjuna in particular – at any time between 10 am and 10 pm and check for yourself the number of tourists that are on the sands, oblivious even to the noon-day sun and the hot sand their feet are standing on. Drive around Panjim and attempt to count the people on the steps of the Panjim Church at any time of the day or night.
Drive further to Fontainhas and Sao Tome areas of Panjim and you get caught in traffic jams created by tourists on photo and video shoots for Instagram and other social media. The last is definitely a nuisance, but aren’t these the very travellers who have fed the tourism industry in Goa after the international tourists were unable to travel?
For that matter, are these points mentioned above indicators that Goa tourism is on the downslide? And if it is on such a slope, will some tri-weekly flight from Russia or twice weekly flight from the UK and a passing cruise reverse the trend?
This is a question that Goa Tourism needs to seriously ponder when it sits to revise the tourism policy, a move that has been suggested by the Tourism Minister. The tourism policy and master plan are exactly two years old, unveiled in November 2020, but a lot has changed during that period that would require it to be revised.
Another crucial point for discussion here is what did Goa Tourism do in the past two years when the footfalls were low to reinvent itself for a post-pandemic tourism scenario. Putting protocols in place for the pandemic does not suffice as a measure now that all these protocols have been lifted.
Goa Tourism has to realise the importance of domestic tourism and aim for marketing strategies in this segment. It can learn from the State of Rajasthan that in May this year unveiled a new roadmap that will focus on domestic tourism.
Rajasthan tourism faced the same issues as Goa at the same time, yet it was ready with a redrafted policy in May 2022 and Goa in November 2022 is talking of revising the tourism policy.
Instead of focusing on domestic tourism, the State is planning tourism junkets to countries like France, Switzerland and Austria in Europe that have never been traditional markets for the State. What is the rationale for this choice of countries?
Earlier this year Goa Tourism participated at the Lisbon tourism mart. Has there been any increase of tourists from Portugal to Goa? Have there been any serious travel queries from Portugal?
Unless there are answers to these questions, another trip to Europe will achieve nothing but will be a waste of the taxpayers' money that will be utilised to meet the travel and lodging and boarding bills of the team going to these places.
(The writer is a senior journalist and author)