We Shouldn't Be Blaming the Indian Tourist Alone for Goa's Troubles

By playing the victim card, Goans abdicate their responsibility for the self-created mess that they find themselves mired in.

Tourism in Goa has been in the news recently. A piece in a weekly conveyed Goans’ sense of outraged desperation at the behaviour of Indian tourists visiting Goa. Vijai Sardesai, the minister for town and country planning, was quoted calling a section of tourists’ ‘scum of the earth’.

The annual number of tourists visiting Goa is more than five times its 14.5 lakh population. Reports like the one in Open indicate that Goa is finding it difficult to keep its head above the surge. At the same time, a local newspaper has suggested that 35% of the population in Goa now consists of migrants. Are these the fount of Goa’s problems?

Goa is like a veritable pie that everyone wants a piece of. Drawn by its beauty and, the much spoken of laid-back lifestyle, there is a steady influx of people making the state their home. These features attract tourists too. Others come in search of employment. It comes as no surprise, then, that property is a gold mine and land is coveted. Not only are Goans selling, converting or renting their old houses, but land too is being converted for commercial and residential purposes.

With Goans migrating and families becoming smaller and residing in different parts of the world, maintaining properties is no longer easy. Selling it, therefore, becomes the best way to cash in and divvy-up the proceeds before the land is usurped while renting properties becomes a source of income and also ensures that they are maintained.

The Economic Survey 2017-18 finds double-digit percentage growth in the construction sector over previous years in most years between 2012-13 and 2016-17. During a low growth year in the construction industry, electricity/gas/water services – basic requirements for sale of new construction – have shown double-digit growth. That there has been no corresponding dip in this sector is intriguing, to say the least. At the same time, an official from the directorate of census operations has stated that one out of every five houses remains unoccupied.

Does the much vaunted susegado approach of the Goan cloak a desire to make hay at all times? During colonial and pre-liberalisation times, the landed were unable to sell or convert their property because of the poor economy. Pre-liberation Goa ran mostly on remittances from Goans working outside the state and from agriculture. Others were employed in the Portuguese bureaucracy or were involved in import/export. Smuggling from then Bombay also helped.

Not only are Goans selling, converting or renting their old houses but land too is being converted for commercial and residential purposes. Credit: Navin Sigamany/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Though Goa was known to the hippies in the 1960s and ‘70s, there was a series of development that brought about the transformation of Goa. The 1983 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting brought Goa centre stage and with it better infrastructure for its people, which included an international airport. Goa’s statehood and then liberalisation provided the fuel for the great leap forward. Statehood was an opportunity for locals to become lawmakers and it gave others ready access to those in power, and liberalisation allowed for easy credit and investments. Tourism-related infrastructure got a boost and the construction of roads brought inaccessible parts of Goa within the clutches of developers. The arrival of Konkan Railways made Goa accessible to a larger geography of people.

Regulatory and legal changes helped too. Claude Alvares, an environmentalist based in Goa has written:

“So first, the government amended the Industrial Development Act and removed all industrial estates from the jurisdiction of the Panchayats. Next, it announced a Goa Investment Policy (August 2014) and followed this up with the Goa Investment Promotion Act. This Act is designed to provide a “single-window” clearance in lieu of clearances under the Regional Plan, the Land Revenue Code, any notified development plans, and even the Panchayat Raj Act”.

Another example was the government’s reclassification of the coconut tree as a grass which is alleged to have aided the construction of a distillery. The government later caved into protests and rescinded this classification. Today, many Goans are protesting the government’s plan to amend the 2018 coastal regulations zone notification which would reduce it to 50 meters from the high tide level.

Tourism, construction, manufacturing and mining, which is currently on hold, form a major chunk of the economic activity of the state. In Goa, 7.8% of the population is unemployed which could be one reason for the continuing exodus of youth choosing to work abroad and on ships, repatriating their salaries home. The government plans to incentivise companies based in Goa to hire Goans by subsidising their salary. But such incentives have not considered localised jobs, like those of the local barber now competing with the expertise of young migrants, and other such blue collared work. A visit to any restaurant serves as a reminder of the missed employment opportunities for Goan youth as many waiters come from other states.

In Goa, 7.8% of the population is unemployed. Credit: Emily Abrams/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Open season

Internet access and rising incomes make the alluring promise of Goa accessible, even if for a short while. Depending on the month, the number of domestic tourists fall and rise in the range of two to 11 lakhs (2017) while foreign tourist numbers hover between nine thousand and over a lakh.

For their stay, they have the choice of 3,575 hotels and their 76,896 beds. The numbers do not indicate whether they include home-stays and the Airbnb segment.

To attract a more diverse population of tourists, the tourism department has been shining a spotlight on Goa’s religious history, celebratory traditions, adventure sports activities, flora and fauna and beaches. Goa is also being promoted as a MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions), nightlife, wedding and spa destination. Despite the promotion of these hues to Goa, an official document suggests a discomfort with the existing state of affairs – ‘Though the growth in tourist arrivals is impressive, yet more emphasis on qualitative, high-end tourism is the need of the hour’.

The inability to draw a different kind of tourist can be explained by a KPMG report which notes that the “Historical promotion of ‘sun, beach and sand’ alone has led to non-discovery of other tourism assets”. The other reason is the easy access to cheap alcohol on the beach and elsewhere.

Can the domestic tourist be blamed when the tourism minister of Goa, Manohar Ajgaonkar, has been quoted as saying that alcohol is part of the Goan culture? Is it, therefore, any wonder that tourists bypass these other facets of Goa and lock on to the celebrations and cheap alcohol part of Goenkarponn (Goanness)?

So, it should come as no surprise that Goa is misconstrued by many tourists to mean a conducive environment to act without scruples, inhibition or of fear of punishment. Yes, the tourist has a responsibility to be a good guest. But to expect this transformation to occur at the border is to want the sun to rise from the West. Any civic sense that tourists may have is watered down by the ‘Goan spirit’ and lack of tourist-centric policing, lacunae brought out in a 2012 CAG report.

An NCAER study found that expenditure on ‘food and beverage’ is third after accommodation and transportation for domestic tourists visiting Goa. Domestic tourists give ‘leisure’ and ‘religious’ as two major reasons for a visit here. The study found that those visiting for religious purposes spend more on ‘food and beverage’ than those visiting on leisure. This only proves that religiosity is no match for the good times that Goa promises and effortlessly delivers. Interestingly, the NCAER study mentions ‘alcohol’ only once in an observation about taxes on it and instead uses the more benign term ‘beverage’ in all other instances.

Preserving Goenkarponn

Many fear Goa is losing its ‘Goaness’ because of the steady influx of people from other states. Not only is there a level of dichotomy in this concern but also a certain amount of disingenuity as it assumes culture is pure and constant while also suggesting that it is susceptible to influence. It is unfortunate that people choose to ignore the crossroads at which culture exists. No culture is permanent or perfect. The challenge is to draw the tourist and the new resident to Goan culture so they choose to become part of it. The only way to preserve a culture is by not becoming isolationist or xenophobic. Further, it fails to recognise the positive influence that the ‘New Goan’ has on the state’s economy and society. To blame the ‘outsider’ reflects an unwillingness to see the role that the Goan plays in the destruction of the land she so loves.

A clean-up

Getting a ‘better quality of tourist’ not only reeks of racism and elitism but is also not going to make any dent in the problem. In fact, if numbers remain the same, catering to their high-end demands can make things worse. Nor will an app-based taxi service which is supposed to break the monopoly of the private taxis and thus lower fares help when the answer is public transport. These are band-aid solutions that, in fact, maintain the status quo.

It was reported, that in Goa, on average a foreign tourist spends Rs 87,000 while the average Indian visitor spends Rs 37,500. Using the 66th NSSO survey on employment and unemployment NCAER determined that the formal tourism sector in Goa employed 59,581 people while the informal part employed 121,240 people. These numbers indicate the extent of tourism’s contribution to Goa’s economy and society. Is it, therefore, advisable to demolish one of the pillars on which this state’s economy stands?

But while it comes at a price, it is not only tourism that is causing environmental destruction and socio-cultural unease. The government has a role to play as has the hotel industry, new resident and tourist. But it is the Goan, who like Tarpeia, in Roman mythology, opened the gates of the citadel on Capitoline Hill to the Sabine army in exchange for what they wore on their arms, who shoulders most of the blame.

By playing the victim card, Goans abdicate their responsibility for the self-created mess that they find themselves mired in. The first step in resolving the situation is for them to acknowledge and accept that the problem is of their own making. They will then realise that the solution is, therefore, is in their hands.

Samir Nazareth is the author of the travelogue, 1400 Bananas, 76 Towns & 1 Million People. He tweets at @samirwrites