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On October 14, after a protracted wait of six years, the Goa government approved the state's tourism policy. Initially, owing to a shortage of solid leadership, and later subject to financial uncertainty, the policy was delayed.
The policy document foresees tourism for the next 25 years with the vision of rendering the state by 2024 the most favored destination for high-spending visitors during the year.
The government has allowed for the formation of a new Tourism Board, which will be the backbone of all decisions related to tourism preparation, growth, and marketing in Goa.
The Board will work for the reinforcement of tourism properties, the extension of employment opportunities, and the development of beach belt infrastructure, where footfalls are the highest. It will also launch operations in the hinterland of eco-tourism.
The policy comes at a time when the second largest revenue earner, tourism in the state, has been severely affected.
Hotels and restaurants were reopened by the state government on September 1, but occupancy has not hit full capacity.
Unemployment has been increasing owing, among other factors, to the ban on iron ore mining by the Supreme Court since March 16, 2017. Till then, mining was the highest revenue-generating business.
Now, to raise its declining revenues, the government relies solely on tourism. In the current fiscal year, the state, which collected Rs 15,000 crore in revenue last year, is already facing a 70 percent revenue shortfall.
In the past couple of months, around 100,000 job seekers have registered with the state's job exchange. In a state with a population of 1.5 million, this is a large number. In one suburb of Mumbai, such as Dadar, there are so many people.
As international flights are banned, high-spending international tourists, the cornerstone of the season, are missed. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant admits that the pandemic has hit tourism badly.
He is hopeful, however, that tourism will return to the state soon. "Around 80 percent of Goa's hotels are full.
The curve of Covid is flattening, ”Sawant said on October 15 in Panaji. Goa had 3,950 active cases of Covid as of October 17, with 531 deaths. In the 2019-2020 Goa Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP), tourism had a 9-11 percent share. The tourism season for the state starts in October and lasts until May.
Normally, between October and December, it is at its peak. Nearly 89% of tourists who arrived in Goa during this time are domestic tourists. The government believes that they impose tremendous stress on the ecology, infrastructure, and tourism assets of the state.
There are currently numerous government bodies who, without any comprehensive, long-term vision, take decisions on strengthening tourism assets. On policy matters, the Goa Tourism Department and the Goa State Tourism Development Corporation (GSTDC) are always at loggerheads.
The proposed tourism board will be a single autonomous body that will function in sync with the tourism industry's stakeholders. Stopping the misuse of tourism budgets is expected.
A partnership of KPMG Advisory Services and Tourism and Leisure Advisory Services was selected by the Goa government in 2014 to prepare a tourism policy and master plan. In December 2019, they submitted the plan to the government for approval.
The tourism policy covers various aspects (meetings, incentives, seminars, and exhibitions), such as coastal, educational, cultural, and nature-based tourism, recreation, entertainment, and MICE. For the current tourist season, the government has granted permission for a 50 percent waiver of license fees for beach shacks.
Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar says that promoting Goa behind the beaches, temples, churches, and heritage is very important. "The paper discusses the development of eco-tourism, inland tourism, adventure, and sports tourism, cultural and educational tourism, as well as entertainment," he says.
To form the tourism board, the government will need to enact a law. In this regard, this might move legislation to the assembly in its next session in December. The tourism minister is supposed to take over as the chairman of the tourism board.
The tourism board, Ajgaonkar says, will consist of specialist members from various fields, including environmentalists. To support and marketing Goa as a brand on an international platform, the board will finalize the kind of tourism projects, events, and infrastructure that need to be created. "Public-private partnership (PPP) projects would be encouraged," he says.