It had to happen sometime. After more than a decade of terrific surging growth and steadily increasing numbers of arrivals, it has been a bad year for tourism in Goa. The expected year-end rush might balance the books somewhat, but the state’s dramatic decrease in high-value travelers has made 2014 a big disappointment for the tourism industry.
Much of the reason why this happened is available in official tourism department statistics, according to which the number of arrivals in Goa has gone straight up since 2000, the millennium year which established India’s smallest state as party central for the subcontinent. That year, fewer than a million Indians visited alongside 3,00,000 foreigners from a mix of countries. But in 2013, more than 2.6 million Indians crossed the border, accompanied by almost 5,00,000 foreigners (out of which nearly 2,00,000 were Russians).
The massive surge in sheer numbers of tourists—10% increase last year alone—covered up fundamental shortcomings, and potential pitfalls in the tourism landscape of Goa. Charter flights more than doubled in the past decade to almost 1,200 in 2013, but room rates never went up. Meanwhile, the total number of ‘star category’ hotels barely increased at all: even today there are just around 5,000 available. Thus almost all of the growth over the past decade has been in lowest-value Indian and foreign tourism.
Budget travelers have a place in any tourism ecosystem, as long as their numbers do not reach a tipping point. But Goa’s chaotic market
place ignored all warning signs and invited upon itself a tsunami of bargain seekers and backpackers.
Now instead of being positioned alongside Mauritius and the Maldives among the premium destinations in the region, this recently-pristine and legendarily beautiful seaside state jostles in a race to the bottom with Ooty and Lonavla and Kanyakumari.
Even as the numbers in the lowest end of the tourism industry have gone up and up, the relevant infrastructure in Goa has barely upgraded. Some roadwork and bypasses have been built, but almost no public toilets. The police are barely visible along the entire coastline—where every kind of illegality flourishes unchecked—and systematic garbage collection, segregation and treatment simply doesn’t exist. This is nothing less than criminal neglect, a disgraceful dereliction of duty on part of the state government and administration.
Unlike Sikkim and Kerala, where officials and administrators nurtured and guide sustainable and relatively beneficial development in the industry, Goa’s tourism achieved its spectacular growth despite the government. To the extent the state’s politicians and bureaucrats get involved, it is almost inevitably in favor of absurdly costly, ill-conceived (and often illegal) schemes: a bridge and land-grabbing golf course at Tiracol, a ridiculous skyway across the Mandovi from Miramar, a promenade jutting across the Baga creek.
Goa tourism development corporation’s plans to “develop and improve” tourism in Goa include helicopter tourism and GTDC managing director Nikhil Desai also talked about Rs100crore set aside for “hot air balloons, horse trailing and Segway tours” when he announced the appointment of Chlorophyl Brand and Communication Consultancy, a Mumbai-based agency that has been splashing out unprecedented sums of public money on a lavish “rebranding” exercise in luxury magazines even as industry fundamentals are declining precipitously in plain view.