PANAJI: (First Published March 2015) The verdict is finally out. A study conducted jointly by our sister-portal IndyaNewz.com (currently being updated) and the Margao-based social organisation and Think Tank Forum for Fairness & Good Governance in India (FFFGG) says that Goa has dropped several places lower down the chart as the most favoured destination for high spending foreign tourists.
The IndyaNewz.com-FFFGG survey which was conducted over three weeks, in Goa and abroad, sought responses from several trade organisations, tourists and charter operators in the USA, UK, Russia, Germany and the rest of Europe. Over 2800 responses from different players and stakeholders in the international Travel and Tourism industry as well as local stakeholders, hoteliers, restaurant and shack owners and prominent citizens in Goa were collated, processed and analysed to arrive at the findings. The chief conclusions of the IndyaNewz.com-FFFGG survey and study are as follows:
1. On a scale of 1 to 100, Goa has fallen about 15 to 18 places lower on the choice of the international tourists’ preferred holiday destination.
2. Goa has become too-expensive for the economy tourists or the retired foreign tourist who would visit Goa and stay throughout the winter. The steep increase in lodge, hotel and room rents over the last 3-4 years has made Goa “out of reach” for the middle class or lower middle class foreign tourists. They are now visiting other destinations like the Philippines and Vietnam.
3. Lawlessness in beach areas—touts, pimps, nagging and noisy local tourists, lower income Indian male travellers ogling at foreign female tourists and high hotel and tourist taxi rates, falling quality (and quantity) of food items, lesser choice on the food menu, no regular entertainment options during the entire tourist season – these are some of the reasons quoted by the respondents for the waning interest in Goa.
4. Noisy EDM music festivals during the peak tourist festive season which in turn translate into more drug peddling, flesh trade, huge increase in prices of tourist taxis, room rentals, air fare, shacks, over crowding in the main beach attractions are also the main reason for foreign tourists avoiding Goa during December. Many international tourist operators opined that not everyone loves EDM – the older, high paying tourist likes to have a quiet, memorable Christmas and New Year with a few friends, loved ones and family. It is a known fact that people from the UK and Europe came in groups. Groups which have been coming to Goa for the last 10-12 years, but are now avoiding Goa all-together. Most groups interviewed say that Goa has become too noisy. The entire Christmas and New Year week has become a huge noisy circus in North Goa. Food is very expensive and good sea-food becomes rare or even extinct, as thousands of cash-rich Indians come to Goa to splurge on wine and women. Rates of almost everything under the sun available in Goa are tripled during that period and even their regular taxi drivers who have been ferrying them for years disappear during that time as they are busy catering to the rich Indian tourist. The rich foreign tourist wants peace, quiet and exclusivity while the economy or low-budget foreign tourist wants economical food, beverage, room-rents and transport. The EDM festivals during the Christmas week change the entire logistics, economy and eco-system of Goa making it unsuitable for both the rich foreign tourist as well as the low-budget tourist who are looking at Spain, Portugal on the higher end of the spectrum and Vietnam and Philippines on the lower end. Goa has become a Trance and EDM destination – a favourite choice of the youth. But there is much more to music than only trance and EDM, says Evelyn Fernando from the UK. Like a hotelier in North Goa who owns 3 hotels and resorts in the Candolim-Calangute belt said, “The drug-pumped youngsters from the rest of India with lots money come to Goa during Christmas and New Year for the EDM festivals. They may spend lavishly, but they drive away the foreign tourists with their arrogance and noise, their fast cars and bikes and their drunken ways.”
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5. Another important reason for the dwindling tourist numbers is the rampant corruption that has spread like a contagious disease or plague. Police officials at the lower level have become very corrupt. Several foreign tourists we interviewed said in the good old days local Goan policemen would salute the foreign tourist. Meaning tourists were treated with respect. Quoting a simple example, tourists who rent out two-wheelers in Goa at times have to deposit their original driving license with the owner of the vehicle. The hotel or room owner at times would keep the passport of the tourist as a collateral against board-and-lodge dues. In such a scenario, the tourist was left with only photo copies of his driving license and passport. If caught by traffic police the photo copy of the driving license would suffice. Today, traffic police demand the original driving license and vehicle papers. Further, the hafta or bribe rates have increased exponentially. Another 65-year old tourist from the UK who has been coming to Goa with his wife for the last 8 years said, “Four years ago, if I was caught by a traffic police for some very minor offence, he would let me off with a warning or at the most would expect Rs 50 as a ‘gift”. Today, corrupt traffic police men in Goa demand or expect nothing less than Rs 500 from an errant tourist who may be guilty of even a very minor offence.
6. Growing intolerance and changing socio-political scenarios is another major issue. As recently as about five years ago, foreign women in bikinis were a very common sight not just on the beaches in North and South Goa, but also in the adjoining by lanes and roads. Women walked from the beach to their hotels in their bikinis. Today it is impossible for a foreign female tourist irrespective of her age to walk in a bikini to her hotel in North Goa, even if it is less than a kilometre away. Not just the ogling Indian males, even hotel managements in North Goa are advising and discouraging women from lounging in the hotel lobby in bikinis or “indecent attire”, forget about walking down the roads in such “indecent attire”. While this move may be with a good motive – to avoid crimes against women like eve-teasing, ogling and rape, it is perceived to be a hindrance or “restriction” on the foreign tourist who wants to have the old ways and freedoms that the Goa of yore offered say ten years ago.
7. Goa has lost is sense of privacy and anonymity: Earlier, about 8-10 years ago, Goa was perceived more as a family destination. Elderly foreign tourists in their late 60s could relax with their grandchildren in their teens on the beaches without being “stared at”. Kissing, smooching, hugging and other similar public displays of affection (PDA) were common on Goan roads and beaches and the local Goans turned the other way even if they saw a couple making out on the beach. Today, such PDA is completely ruled out and one can only imagine the scenario on a beach in Baga or Candolim if a couple were found passionately kissing. At least a dozen Indian males would be staring at them and some of them even clicking photographs and shooting videos on their cell-phones. Low-priced, cell phones with high-end cameras easily available in India are a nightmare for the foreign tourist in Goa who are warned by their friends on travel forums and tourist chat rooms that a local Indian youth could be clicking upskirt photographs of foreign women on Goan beaches.
A misconception among Indian males from other parts of India is primarily responsible for lesser foreign women seen in the beach areas of Goa. While local Goan men learnt to respect foreign women at an early age, no matter what attire or dress they wore, Indian males coming from other cities think that a phirangi bikini clad woman may be “easily available”. Most foreigners we spoke to for this survey, opined that their women were openly stalked, propositioned and “invited” at bars, pubs and even on the road. While most if not all foreign women just smile and refuse when invited for a drink by an Indian male, primarily to avoid fights or police and legal hassles, it has earned Goa a very, very bad name in the last few years. There is a need for awareness and sensitization across India, said the owner of a popular night spot in the Baga area. While we welcome Indian tourists, they should understand that Goa is different. Here our men were taught to respect and treat foreign women with dignity, irrespective of the outfits they wore. Not all Russian women are call girls and prostitutes and this is something that Indian male tourists need to be told loud and clear. “Most Indian youngsters think that Russian bikini-clad female tourists can be easily taken for a “drink and drive”, which is not the case and has earned Indian men a bad reputation on the Russian social media, said a Russian tour operator, based in Moscow.
The huge migrant labour population in Goa is also to blame. Drivers, waiters, cooks from all parts of India flood Goa during the tourist season. Most of them are “not trained in the right etiquette towards foreign women.” A owner of a popular hangout at Small Vagator – who is a foreigner but has been living in Goa for several years, says she sacked two waiters this year for “propositioning single female guests’ and making lewd advances. The women who were known to her, complained that the waiters first asked the guests if they wanted some drugs. Then the next time, they asked them if they wanted to make some extra money. All they had to do was to have drinks with some Indian men. Waiters, tourist car drivers and hotel staff from other parts of India are earning a bad name for Goa in the international tourist market. In the enthusiasm to make a quick buck, they try to double up as informants, touts, pimps and pedlars for the bigger gangs.
8. Political influence & Social Media: Statements like “bikinis should be banned in Goa” coming from senior political figures have snowballed into huge controversies on the social media. In the past there was “word of mouth”, today there is social media. The Goa Tourism department has FAILED MISERABLY to harness and channelise the power of social media and travel and tourist forums. Merely placing advertisements and paid insertions is not enough. A tourist can easily distinguish a paid advertorial from a genuine comment. A genuine comment is worth a thousand paid advertorials. But the Goa Tourism department has failed to channelize this medium in spite of spending cores on road shows, exhibitions and interactions abroad. The Goa Tourism department must completely change its marketing, advertising, promotion, PR and social media strategy. Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar and Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar must spend a full-day with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, learning how social media works.
9. Failure of the government to handle the Russians, Israelis and Nigerians: While not all Russians, Nigerians and Israelis visiting Goa are drug pedlars and trouble makers, all of them want to have their own space and privacy. Fair-skinned young Russian women tourists like to have their own privacy with their friends and the failure of the local government to create such private spaces and yet maintain law and order – a very difficult and tricky problem has led to the decrease in Russian tourists coming to India, as several incidents of fights and high-handedness have spread like wild fire on Russian forums and social media. The government needs to handle this tricky situation very calmly and effectively, yet on a war-footing. The Russians, Nigerians and Israelis must be made to feel comfortable and at home, yet the local taxi operators and local businesses should not be denied their livelihood. This is catch-22 situation and the government has failed to please both sides. Long-staying Russians could be given “part-time jobs” as tour guides, taxi operators and even restaurant owners, while the main businesses are run by Goans.
10. Loss of business for foreigners in Goa: It is a known secret over the last 20 years that hundreds of foreigners who came to Goa as tourists on tourist visas stayed for about 3 months and carried on business among their own people. Some of them functioned as middle men or agents – re-renting two wheelers and cars or mostly running small eateries and restaurants catering to specialized menus for their respective countrymen. They also organised entertainment for their country folk on the near-deserted beaches in the northern or southern-most tips of Goa. 4-5 years ago, the Russians started their own taxi services, salons and parlous. These Mom & Pop businesses in Goa run by the Russians, Brits and Nigerians did a lot of local promotion in their own country on an unofficial level, inviting groups of friends and acquaintances to Goa. In north and south Goa combined there were about 200 such small unofficial businesses who also helped bring in the tourists. With the crackdown on foreigners doing unofficial business in Goa, this seems to be on the wane.
11. Cost of Visas: The price of visas is another issue. Most foreigners opined that the price of visas were much lower in other countries. A survey conducted on Goa-related groups on Facebook and VK and Travel forums like TripAdvisor frequented by foreign tourists to Goa, revealed that most tourists wanted visas for children below 12 years of age to be free or subsidized. If I have 2-3, nine and ten year old grandchildren, I cannot afford to pay the visas fees for all of them. Also non-issuance of multi-entry visas was another issue. Discrepancies in visas was a major pain. More than one couple lamented that while the wife was issued a 3-month visa, the husband was given a 6 month multiple entry visa.
The IndyaNewz.com-FFFGG study quotes a report by the Goa-edition of the Times of India as below:
“A shack operator at Baga pointed out that female foreign tourists, whether alone or in company, is the object of fancy for Indian male tourists. “They will ogle to the extent of making the woman uncomfortable. Some even follow and strike up conversations,” said the operator. Sally and Clive, a couple from the UK, who have been visiting Goa regularly for the last 20 years, say a lot has changed. “Goans are lovely and warm and we do like Goa, but…” said Clive, adding that he has been approached by drug peddlers four times since his arrival this time.
“Irritants at the beaches can’t be tolerated anymore,” said Sally. The couple have decided they will not be telling their friends back home to visit Goa.
Lifeguards at the beach also tell of how female foreign tourists get singled out by male Indian tourists, with some even taking photos on their cellphones.
“If you get this kind of treatment, I don’t think you want to come back,” said a boutique hotel owner in North Goa, who had a couple staying at his hotel recount their “horrifying experience” on Baga beach on Tuesday morning.
Despite the presence of IRB personnel on the beaches, one sees all kinds of vendors, including masseurs, on the beaches.
“They have some sort of an understanding with each other. If the IRB personnel are patrolling one end of the beach the vendors enter from the other end. But most vendors come in the afternoon when the IRB personnel take their lunch break,” said a shack operator.
Private taxi operators too whine about the reduced number of tourists, accusing hoteliers and tour operators of harming Goa tourism. The latter in turn blame taxi operators for overcharging.
“We are accused of overcharging but nobody points fingers at hoteliers charging exorbitant rates. Leave alone starred hotels, even no-frills hotels and guesthouses charge high rent during season time. To top it all, airfare is so high. No wonder, tourists are turning their back on Goa,” said Vasudev Arlekar, president of the North Goa Tourist Taxi Owners Association.
A hotelier in South Goa, said may be the ills of Goa’s tourism have started showing their effect, though he claimed that most starred hotels are full, if not by foreign tourists then by high-end Indian tourists.
“They practically force their paying customers to leave their premises. Restaurants at the higher end of the spectrum, with professional management, good ambiance, soft music and good food seem to be doing better than those playing loud music,” he claimed, indicating that it is the non-starred hotels and shack operators who have lost this season and will have to change their strategy to gain lost ground.
(The IndyaNewz.com-FFFGG survey and study on Foreign Tourists to Goa was edited by Flynn Remedios, Jonathan De Souza, Sandhya Singh and Terrance Pinto)