Wednesday 19 September 2018

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Economy | Tourism

Is Goa's tourism growing the healthy way ?

 

Ensconced on the slopes of the Western ghats, Goa is called a paradise on the western coast of the country. But more than the Sahyadri ranges, extensive paddy fields and fine network of navigable waterways, the tiny state is known for its idyllic palm-fringed coastline of 105 kms. It's officially promoted as "a tiny emerald land on the west coast of India, with its natural scenic beauty, attractive beaches, churches and temples famous for its architecture, feasts and festivals."

But what has been exposed to the tourists, foreign or otherwise, is mainly the beaches, churches and temples. Because the authorities are being criticised for not exposing the remaining part of the tourist state, its conducted tours take the tourists to a few interior places, but without well-thought and well-planned vision.

As the tourism director U D Kamat puts it, "the pride of Goa is certainly its beaches where the sand, the sea and the sky blend in enchanting natural harmony. Obviously, Goa has thus far been projected essentially as a beach leisure resort." Even its tourism master plan, prepared a decade ago, visualised development of only the coastline with star resorts and other hotels.

Perhaps this is the reason 77 per cent of hotels and resorts are today found situated along the coastline, with hardly any hotels in the equally beautiful hinterland, except in some towns and cities. The official statistics reveals that 77 per cent of domestic tourists and 95 per cent foreign tourists prefer the coastline. The number of tourists coming here have outnumbered 12 lakh population of the state, which includes 80 per cent domestic tourists.

In fact the World Tourism Organisation has estimated a steep rise in the tourism inflow, around 14 lakh by end of the century. Goa is presently having around 400 hotels and resorts and 1000 paying guest houses, providing 12,000 rooms, including 2600 in a star category.

With the hotels under construction, it is expected to go up to 15,000 rooms, including additional 2400 in the star category. But as the WTO envisages it, the demand for rooms would shoot up to 35,000 beds, including 10,000 in the star category, in next four years. The figures clearly indicate that the plan is to strengthen the beach tourism.

With a plan to make Goa an international tourist destination, the state government has now planned many more five star hotels along the coast with facilities like golf course and casinos, floating restaurants, converting historical forts into resorts, the international air port, superhighways and broadening the existing roads along the coastline, amidst public outcry.

Ill-effects of beach tourism already reflect a crude culture spreading among the coastal population while the government has formed a special anti-narcotic cell in the police department to control the spread of drug trade and acid parties. Goa is also becoming a favourite destination of paedophiles, though the government officially denies it.

"Where will such tourism take the Goan society ? We need a new policy for a eco-friendly sustainable tourism", says state opposition leader Dr Kashinath Jhalmi. As most of the foreign tourists coming to Goa are middle class or upper middle class, the industrial and five star lobby however is pressurising the local authorities to promote 'upmarket quality tourism' in the state.

But can beaches alone sustain Goa's tourism trade, the second largest income generator of the state ? Will it remain as virgin as it was in '70s with the authorities consciously promoting the state as a place of 'free culture' as was done through the brochure of the central tourism department recently ? Is it wise enough to welcome a casino culture which has amply proved abroad that Mafia culture is an inevitable outshoot of it ?

The issue is being hotly debated today, while the local authorities continue neglecting exposure of real culture and scenic beauty of the state. Due to the mounting public pressure, heritage tourism is talked about, but only to convert historical forts into resorts. One or two hill resorts are being planned in the Sahyadri ranges, not with conviction but as an eyewash.

Goa has lot of historical significance which any serious tourist would be interested in. While its history starts with third century BC, it has a treasure of over 1000 years from archaeological point of view, from ninth century onwards. It witnessed many dynasties, from Bhoja to Kadambas to Adilshahas to the Portuguese, which had built Chandrapur (called Chandor today), Goapuri (Goa Velha) and City of Goa (Old Goa) as their capital cities.

The state-level archaeological department as well as the Archaeological Survey of India has done lot of research on it, but is facing severe fund crunch and absolute lack of political will to march forward. On the contrary, the historical monuments are being encroached upon by the brutal builders' lobby, obviously the government keeping its eyes shut over it.

''Recreation of the three cities - Chandor, Goa Velha and Old Goa - and cave temples found in Bicholim can be the biggest tourist attraction for the domestic and foreign tourists, which will make the tourism trade fully sustainable. But who will do it'', asks Muhammed K K, deputy superintending archaeologist of ASI.

The local archaeological department has also explored a Jain temple in Eastern Goa and rock carvings and a miraculous lake of bubbles in the Southern Goa. Historical forts from North to South are lying in a dilapidated condition while the Goa Museum, inaugurated by the President of India in last June, is still awaiting Rs one crore of funds to set up its historical galleries.

Goa has four sanctuaries, out of which one is a bird sanctuary on the banks of Mandovi river, near Panaji. But very little attention is being given to it, while only Bondla wild life sanctuary - the smallest among the three areawise - is being promoted from tourism point of view. Biggest is the one declared as a National Park in Mollem, with 240 sq kms of thick forest, receiving step-motherly treatment from the authorities.

Francis Xavier Arauzo, assistant conservator of forests, admits that no dialogue has taken place till date between the tourism and forest department on exploring the possibility of tourism trade. He admits that the sanctuaries have lot of scope for 'adventure tourism', which may include hiking, trekking, rock climbing, stream crossing etc, but complains that tourists pollute the jungle throwing plastic waste all around the place.

He seems to be more happy with tourists not being exposed to the lush green forests of Goa, while half of the rich jungle trees have already been victim of illegal deforestation, thanks to the political era the state witnessed in '80s.

While jungles have been hidden from the 'quality tourists', the attitude of the authorities towards Goa's culture has also been jungli. Instead of promoting real Goan culture like traditional Carnival of Catholics or Shigmo of Hindus taking place in villages, the tourism department takes pride in showing floats with obscene dances on the streets and a flea market selling drugs in Anjuna with the blessings of the police - the protectors of law.

In short, the illegalities and deculturisation is protected well by the authorities in a desperate attempt to promote 'beach tourism' while Goa's real culture, history and greenery still remains to be exposed to the quality tourists of the country and the World.






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