An Open letter to the Chief Minister and
other policy makers on Tourism Policy and Practice
05th August 2014
The Chief Minister of Goa,
Tourism Minister of Goa
Chief Secretary, Government of Goa
Secretary of Tourism, Government of Goa
Director of Tourism, Government of Goa
Dear Ministers and other Tourism officials,
Ref: Proposed Goa Master Tourism Policy
The Centre for Responsible Tourism (CRT) was set up in 2007 as a rallying point for communities and small sectors to organize them and approach the government through collective approaches to gain equitable benefits from the Government. In addition to organizing people and collectivising and amplifying their voices, we have also engaged in research and study on issues that impact Goa vis-a-vis tourism. It is on the basis of well-informed research that CRT then engages in advocacy and mobilization of people against unjust and unsustainable tourism policies. We study the social, cultural, economic and environmental impact of tourism on local communities. Our conviction is that tourism must go beyond profits for big business and multinational and must, instead, bring benefits to the local communities – the locale of tourism activity. All too often, our observation is that tourism activity displaces and disadvantages people in communities and leaves them marginalized rather than benefited. For as long as tourism provides mere crumbs under the table for the local working classes and original inhabitants of the coasts and other tourism locations, it would have lost its purpose. The question that informs our actions is: ‘Who Really Benefits from Tourism?’ The answer, in the case of Goa is clear. Policy and practice in the government has tended to be weighted in favour of the rich and powerful.
Right from the central Minister for Tourism to the Chief Minister and the Tourism Minister, we have heard some rather disconcerting views. The dominant position of the government is that tourism is for the ‘high-end’ category. Everything will be weighted in their favour. Presumably, the understanding is that the high-end tourist will rake in tourism profits into the coffers of the state exchequer. This presumption is both prejudicial to the working classes who not only deserve a holiday but who are the kind who spend their money in the local markets unlike the higher-end snobbish tourist who visits a 5-star (or above) hotel/resort and comes with an all-inclusive package where money that finally enters Goa is a bare 12-14% of tourism income. The rest stays behind in the sending country. Even what comes into Goa reach their agents- Tour Operators who act as the loyal go-between of the external agent and skim off profits that should at least go the local service providers.
Newspaper reports have selectively filtered news about the State’s Master Plan for Tourism. In the office of the Director of Tourism, officials are clueless about any document that carries such a plan. Obviously the government is leaking information in bits and pieces to test the ground. If it were not the case, why is the plan such a well guarded secret?
A huge pretence is being made of a super-plan in the offing. We, the public, are told the government has hired experts from Europe to draw up a plan for tourism in Goa. It sounds rather preposterous that a government would go all the way to draw up a plan when a large body of stakeholders have answers and solutions which put together can result in a new kind of tourism. It is not too different sending Ministers and officials to study garbage management in Europe when the solutions are right there under your very nose – a wide body of well-informed people with the dedication and zeal required to put things right. Tourism is following the government’s luxury spending escapade formula of having un-informed and under-capacitated officials to go out and learn something which they neither care about nor can implement even if they happen to learn the ropes.
A newspaper report informs us that: “The tourism department has appointed a consortium of KPMG Advisory services Pvt Ltd, and Tourism and Leisure Advisory Sl (T &L) to prepare a 25-year tourism master plan for Goa.
The core of the master plan strategy is to develop an integrated tourism product that is capable of attracting a low-volume, high-yield segment of the international tourism market to spend their entire holiday in Goa.
An important initial activity in the consultancy assignment is to develop a vision for tourism in Goa over the short-term (five years), medium-term (15 years) and long-term (25 years). A study of Goa’s tourist-carrying capacity is proposed to provide guidance while quantifying the vision elements. The preparation of tourism master plan will cost the government roughly 9 crore.”
The plan has received the approval of the big business interests who praise the idea knowing fully well that when the business flows in, they can work harder for their masters in Europe who will send travellers to Goa and then make the bucks. In that process, they will do what they have always done- ignore the people of Goa and pocket their share.
Before this announcement was made, the State government set out the tourism products that would be made available – all elitist in character – oceanariums, theme parks and shopping malls, convention centres and theme parks, beverage outlets, high-end water sports and leisure activities, marinas and hinterland river cruises. All this, we are told, will happen through Public-Private partnerships. In simple words, there will soon be the great sale of Goa and the highest bidder will take home the product. Goa would be reduced to a mere commodity and the government would become the auctioneer.
The newspaper leaks also tell us that the GTDC – Goa’s biggest commercial flop, will renovate and modernize its properties – a claim that sounds fictional given the GTDC’s pathetic record in the past. In much the same vein, the government proudly announces that it will become a hub for medical tourism. The latter especially seems to be based on a total lack of data available and is guaranteed to take away from the local populace good medical practitioners. The best medical professionals will choose profits and well-paid medical tourism facilities while ignoring the working class and people-in-the-margins. With crass arrogance, the government has declared its intent to send relevant government authorities to international conferences to guarantee success.
Already, the government is busy facilitating the sale of precious lands with tantalizing landscape in Tiracol to a Delhi party. This huge resort with a golf course will spell doom for the villagers who have been duped into selling their lands with improper documents. Attempts to obtain valid information to challenge the government’s intent are being stonewalled.
The government has clearly done no homework on its policy formulation. What, if any, assessment has it done to study the impacts on society, culture, economics, and the identity of the state? The identity of the State in terms of its cultural particularity is completely ignored in this policy.
The Centre for Responsible Tourism wishes to raise some pointed questions and demands answers from the government back to the people.
- Why is this whole exercise undertaken without any kind of transparency in policy making? (Casual press clippings do not suffice)
- Has the government allowed a serious enough debate in the Assembly on its plan?
- Which sections of stakeholders have been consulted and why have the remaining been kept away?
- When did the deliberations with different stakeholders that it has consulted and what are the written results of this consultative process?
- Why have there been no consultative processes at District, Taluka, and Village level?
- Were people living in and around tourism destinations consulted in the policy formation process?
- When the deliberations were held, when were they held? Were details of these deliberations put out to the public through key Konkani and English language news papers? Was the venue of these deliberations accessible to all the stakeholders?
- Was the informal sector within the tourism industry represented at these consultations? (E.g. street vendors in tourism destinations, tour guides, shack owners, taxi operators, small and medium guess houses, associations of shop owners, sociologists, cultural people?)
- Have these discussions been documented? Have the outcome of these discussions found place in the draft policy?
- What was the rationale to outsource formation of the tourism policy?
- What were the criteria and process used to identify KPMG Advisory services Pvt Ltd, and Tourism and Leisure Advisory Sl (T &L) as the organisation to write the tourism policy?
- What background studies were conducted and were impacts of current tourism development assessed prior to formation of the policy? If so, were the outcomes of these studies and assessment considered and reflected in the draft policy?
- Why has the draft policy – as now claimed to be done- not been placed in the public domain and comments and suggestions invited from the general public and from people living in and around tourism destinations?
Policy formation process in the State must be mandatory. This is a principle now widely followed by state and central governments. The Goa Children’s Act is a classic example of wide consultative processes being employed in the formulation of policy.
The Goa Tourism High Level group announced by the government could, at best, have comprised representatives of the formal tourism industry or people who would conform to the government’s goals and narrow premises. However, important stakeholders like the informal sector in tourism, workers in the formal sector and representatives of people living in and around tourism destinations must find space in this group if it to be relevant to all. It is time that the government recognises the role played by the informal sector servicing tourists in the different destinations, the vulnerabilities of the workforce in the formal sector and the price that people in and around tourism destinations pay due to the presence of tourism which results in a loss of access to natural resources, land dispossession, bearing the brunt of negative social impacts like sexual exploitation of marginalised groups (women, children, people from marginalized groups), drug abuse and many such other impacts. That people living in and around tourism destinations are also stakeholders of tourism cannot be contested anymore!
In the light of above we demand the following:
- Public meetings based on the draft policy be held in tourism destinations facilitated by the Department of Tourism, Goa.
- The draft tourism policy be made public in Konkani and English and be placed in the state tourism office, Collectors office, Panchayats, as well as on the Department’s website.
- The Department announces a 30-day period during which time, people and organisations can send in their comments and suggestions on the draft policy.
- A Goa Tourism Vision Group be constituted ensuring membership of associations/unions of the informal sector in the tourism industry, representatives of workers unions/associations in the formal sector and presidents of the Zilla Parishads of Goa.
We look forward to the Department of Tourism, Goa being truly democratic in its decision making and uphold these demands. Transparency and people’s participation are the key to successful development.
on behalf of CRT
Fr. Maverick Fernandes