Panaji: Brand Goa needs reinvention and the tag 'party capital' is simply not a good enough calling card, says a white paper prepared by local tourism and travel industry stakeholders, which cites harassment by traffic police, taxi operators, touts and lack of infrastructure, public transport and garbage management as problem areas for promotion of quality tourism.
The white paper "Reinvent Goa", drafted after numerous consultative sessions by the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, one of the oldest industry bodies, also says that the recent imbalance of domestic tourists far outnumbering foreign tourist arrivals, an unfair tax regime, delay in permissions and high visa fees need to be looked into by the state and central governments.
"Taxi fare pricing is non-transparent. Efforts to streamline the trade are hampered by interference from politicians who treat them as a vote-bank. Taxi business is a cash-only affair, which leads to loss of revenue for the government," says the white paper, claiming that taxi drivers were intimidating and exploitative and needed to rid themselves of the 'taxi mafia' tag.
The white paper was drafted with inputs from stakeholders, after a dip in tourist arrival figures over the last couple of years triggered panic in the industry and the government. It was submitted to Tourism Minister Manohar Ajgaonkar on Thursday.
The white paper calls for strict action against dumping of garbage.
"Casual littering of empty alcohol bottles, cans or plastic bottles on beaches and water bodies is choking the state's rivers, seas and lakes and also discouraging tourists from visiting Goa," it says, calling for a ban on plastic in areas popular with tourists.
The paper also calls for setting up of a State Tourism Board with both private and government representatives to help streamline permissions and eliminate overt political interference in tourism administration.
"There is no outreach from the government towards tourism industry stakeholders during formation of policy for the sector or key decision-making. There is hardly any cohesion between various government departments, which hampers deliberations on policy issues and quick decision-making," it said.
The white paper also demands a comprehensive survey to determine the carrying capacity of Goa's beaches and tourist locations, while also urging state and central governments to rationalise the visa fee and tax structure on the lines of Thailand and Sri Lanka to ensure affordability for visiting tourists.
"There is a need to revisit visa fees, airport charges and local taxation like GST, which makes Goa an expensive destination. Take cue from Thailand's dropping of visa fees altogether for Indian tourists. We could incentivise loyal international tourists by reimbursing visa fees," the reportr states, adding that revenue earned from a tourist through indirect taxation, is much higher than monies earned through visa fees.
"We have been unable to develop a sustained brand identity for Goa for decades and, therefore, we cannot get a fix on the kind of tourists we want to attract as a state and how we should go about grabbing their attention. The 'party capital' of India tag is simply not enough or all-encompassing. 'Brand Goa' badly needs a definition," the paper says, while also demanding a strategic, innovative and sustained marketing policy for the coastal state.
"One of the ironies is that despite being one of the top tourist destinations in India, Goa is not even highlighted in the Central government's high profile 'Incredible India' campaign, which is India's tourism pitch to the world," it says.
The report also highlights poor policing as a key reason behind the tourism dip, blaming the absence of a tourist helpline to check unabated harassment.
"There are unlimited touts at every point of sale of any tourism activity, leading to harassment of the tourist... Tourists are constantly harassed by police, especially traffic personnel," it says.