Crucial to bring back tourists for Goa’s economy
plans are underway to form Goa Tourism Board for planning, policymaking and overseeing the implementation of various tourism initiatives, says Goa Tourism Secretary J Ashok Kumar
Tourism, one of the prime industries in Goa, contributes over 16 per cent to the state GDP and supports over 40 per cent jobs and livelihood opportunities. The state has around 3,600 hotels and other accommodation units across four categories registered with the Department of Tourism, with an overall supply of over 73,000 beds.
Apart from marquee tourism infrastructure developments, Goa Tourism has been constantly developing basic and necessary infrastructure in the state such as public conveniences including shower rooms and cloak rooms, tourist information centres, parking lots, installation of CCTV cameras for safety and surveillance, creating wi-fi hotspots and GIS mapping of various tourism-related infrastructure. While the state has a good connectivity through air, land, train and sea, the upcoming international airport at MOPA will further strengthen the air connectivity, especially direct connections with several countries around the world. Excerpts from an interview with Goa Tourism Secretary J Ashok Kumar.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic changed the face of tourism in Goa?
The tourism sector had to shut down for over four months in 2020. After conducting brief business till April 2021, the state again went into curfew mode and a majority of the tourism businesses are yet to open as on date. The pandemic has exerted a strong behavioural impact on tourists’ preferences too. What used to represent the essence of tourism – crossing borders, mingling with strangers, discovering the unknown – has proved to accelerate the spread of the virus. A few changes in tourist’s preferences include mode of travel (preference for self-driving to the destination), type of vacation (preference for staycations especially to the locations closer home), Nature and type of accommodation (preference for villas and other accommodations in lesser-known locations) and types of activities (Nature and wellness). While these preferences might not prevail forever but they will surely gain importance in the coming months, and it is our responsibility to adapt to them. Even before the pandemic, Goa was already re-centering its strategy towards a more responsible form of tourism. We believe that, given the size and the environmental vulnerability of Goa, it is wiser to prioritise quality tourism over large footfall volumes. Responsible tourism can help us meet this objective. The ongoing crisis has consolidated our belief in responsible travel.
Share your plans to attract more domestic tourists to the state to provide the much-needed boost to help sustain tourism destinations and businesses.
It is crucial for Goa’s economy to bring back tourists as soon as possible. Due to its limited population and small size, Goa cannot survive on local tourism by promoting intrastate tourism like several other Indian states. Domestic tourism has been a strong driver of tourism in the state. In 2019, Goa attracted approximately eight million tourists, of which 88.4 per cent were domestic tourists. Since Goa opened its borders for tourism in September 2020, Goa attracted 3.5 million domestic tourists, thereby driving several tourism businesses towards the path of recovery.
In line with the changing tourist preferences and our strategy towards diversification and promotion of Nature, eco, and wellness tourism products, we are aligning our service offerings as follows. We believe the same not only attracts tourists, it will help in effective crowd management too.
* Apart from famous beaches, tourists can explore hinterlands and lesser-known places through experiential tours. Guided tours through experts to help tourists explore Goan heritage, culture, music and culinary in a new way.
* Themed Village tours – out of options like heritage/ culture, spiritual, Nature and backwaters, wellness and agro.
* Exploring Goa through e-bikes. In addition, Goa Tourism is shortly launching tours through alternate modes of transport such as Hop-On Hop-Off buses, amphibious vessels and personal transportation devices.
* Goa Tourism will soon introduce eco-labels for wellness centres to facilitate tourists in selecting the best Ayurveda or wellness centre.
* Promotion of registered homestays and villas as a means of staycation and nomadic workspaces to the tourists.
* Tourists can enjoy adventure activities such as bungee jumping, houseboats and heritage cruises, while exploring hinterlands or backwaters.
* Nautical tours that encompasses boat tours, kayaking, and game fishing provides much-needed edutainment to the tourists in a responsible manner.
* Promoting lesser-known activities, places and attractions to the tourists on social media handles.
What steps is Goa Tourism taking to get tourism and hospitality sector back on feet?
Goa Tourism has adopted three-pronged strategy to bring its tourism and hospitality sector back on feet – Survive, Revive, and Thrive.
As part of Survive, the state government has announced host of relief measures to the industry:
* Extension in tourism licences for 2020-21
* Waiver of landing charges to the extent of Rs 100,000for first 500 international charters
* Working capital interest subvention scheme to the budget category accommodation units and tour/ travel operators registered with Department of Tourism up to working loans of Rs 25 lakh
* Moratorium for payment of electricity charges
As part of Revive, Goa Tourism has undertaken multiple initiatives:
* Receiving “Safe Travels” stamp from World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) which highlights the commitment by tourism businesses in following Covid-19 specific SOPs and protocols
* Only registered tourism establishments following the safety protocols were allowed to undertake tourist bookings to ensure compliance to the Covid-19 protocols
* Focus on domestic tourists in the short- to medium-term
* Strengthening existing base of tourism guides through introduction of tourist facilitator scheme
Various measures expected to help Thrive include:
* Changing the brand image to “Responsible Tourism destination” by development of suitable infrastructure, and introduction of various products and services
* Periodic interaction with the industry for realigning products portfolio to customer trends
* Targetted marketing and promotion campaigns, both digital and physical, to attract tourists apart from building the confidence among the tourists visiting Goa
Which niche products can help the tourism sector’s revival post-pandemic? Your plans to boost tourism in future?
The fear of spread of virus has led to customer preference for travel and staying at less crowded places. Moreover, there is higher consciousness among people regarding health and wellness. Hence, we believe that any product and services that relates to eco, Nature and wellness will thrive in near future. Due to increased adoption of IT and technology among people, it is highly likely that technology oriented products and services in tourism and hospitality industry will strongly emerge. In line with its vision, Goa Tourism plans to align all its products and services to ever-changing customer expectations while simplifying its processes thereby offering a hassle-free experience to all the tourists visiting the state.
Your take on the future prospects of the hospitality and tourism sectors.
Tourism and hospitality sectors will definitely rebound to the pre-Covid levels in the next two-three years and is expected to thrive subsequently. The pandemic has put existing business to test of time and the new normal has led to emergence of new business models. Effectively, the method of delivery of services are expected to undergo notable changes. Moreover, the tourists’ adaption to new normal, while it is difficult initially but accepted eventually, will also have strong bearing on their preferences for holidaying too. Both these factors will lead to changes in the tourism and hospitality industry – type and format of services.
How friendly is Goa for tourism investors?
The government will shortly be forming Goa Tourism Board which will be headed by the Chief Minister. It will be an apex body for planning, policymaking, strategizing and overseeing the implementation of various tourism programmes and initiatives and will have equal representation from the government and the industry. It will be investor-friendly and showcase our willingness to collaborate with the private sector for the development of tourism infrastructure in the state. Moreover, the state has come up with a new Goa Investment Promotion and Facilitation of Single Window Clearance Act 2021 which provides single window clearance for all the investments in the state. Our strategy is simple – the government’s role in tourism infrastructure development shall be enabling and supervisory in nature, while the private sector will be invited for developing, operating, and managing the tourism infrastructure. We believe this philosophy will help us witness significant shift in the tourism investments in the state.
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