Nikhil Desai, Managing Director, Goa Tourism Development Corporation, in an exclusive interview to TF, outlined the vision for state tourism in 2017. While the state will continue its efforts in creating infrastructure, it has mooted augmenting coastal and religious circuits under the centrally sponsored Swadesh Darshan scheme. Excerpts of the interview follows:
What are some of the key engagements and projects in store for 2017? Could you share some of the likely initiatives on branding and marketing front, also on the product augmentation front?
A new year always comes with new hopes, aspirations and time bound plans to complete projects and initiatives over the next 12 months of the year, be it activities, events, infrastructure development and so on. If you have seen, the last four years have been packed with projects and initiatives unique to Goa and in many cases unique to India as well.
We commissioned adventure activities like duck boats, hot air balloon rides, heli joy rides, motorized paragliding, cycling tours, scuba diving, and infrastructure projects like the multi-level car parking project, refurbished Fort Tiracol hotel into a luxury Boutique resort, renovated Panjim Residency, gave a facelift to temples and churches, heritage monuments, improved tourism locations and accesses to tourist spots, undertook beautification projects at tourism sites and so on.
We aim at maintaining the speed and momentum in 2017 as well and will undertake several new tourism development projects and initiatives. We plan to start work on the Reis Magos to Panjim ropeway, expedite the project on the second and new Institute of Hotel Management at Farmagudi, plans to develop our properties at Britona, Miramar, Mayem, Anjuna, develop the old Central Jail into a heritage tourism spot, provide public utility services on the beaches are underway, and under the Swadesh Darshan scheme we propose to develop religious and coastal circuits.
New adventure activities like segway tours, Hop On and Hop Off bus tours, horse riding, bungee jumping and many more will also commence.
We have forwarded several proposals for funding under the Swadesh Darshan scheme of the Central government and will fast track projects accordingly. We already received `99.99 crore in the first phase under the Swadesh Darshan scheme.
Our new tourism master plan and policy should also be out and this vision document will go a long way in guiding and directing Goa Tourism for better planning and execution of its projects and initiatives.
While tourism in the state has taken gallant strides, some of the major bottlenecks like the creation of a Goa tourism board and relaxation in the stringent rules pertaining to Coastal Regulation Zone – which could jettison weddings segment footfalls in the state – remain to be addressed. How is the tourism department addressing these concerns?
Coastal Regulation Zone matters are sensitive and dealt with appropriately as per the law. It is important to have checks and balances to ensure that activities be it tourism or any other is carried out in a regulated manner. The Department of Tourism and Goa Tourism Development Corporation ensure that all stakeholders are under the ambit of the Tourism Trade Act, and that all tourism related businesses are conducted as per the provisions of the Act and rules, guidelines and law. In addition to provisions of the Tourism and Trade Act, there are other agencies who are keeping a close watch on tourism activities, especially when it comes to environment, excise, panchayats and other local bodies etc. Goa Tourism does not interfere in their jurisdictions. Hence tourism stakeholders have to ensure that they follow other guidelines apart from the Tourism and Trade Act for smooth conduct of tourism business in the State.
With regards to the tourism promotion board, Goa Tourism is working on this. In the meantime, Goa Tourism had constituted a State-level Marketing and Promotion Committee comprising of experts from the tourism sector. Their experience and expertise has helped Goa Tourism steer in the right direction over the last three to four years with regards to marketing and promotion and has generated good results for Goa during the last four years.
What has been the latest developments on the river and cruise segment front? What will it take to make the best of these assets that are yet to be fully tapped? Goa is fully endowed on these fronts and yet it has not materialized, as it ought to have? What is holding it back?
This is not true. In fact, during the last two years, Goa Tourism has tried to evolve and shift focus from beach tourism to other assets like hinterland tourism, marine tourism and alike. Our seaplane project and duck boat (amphibious vessel) adventure activities will be making optimum use of the State’s inland waterways. Both these initiatives are awaiting permissions and once obtained will be commissioned. Soft launches have been conducted successfully and it is expected to take off in this current season. Special circuits and joy rides using the State’s river waters have been chalked out and will give tourists an insight into Goa’s backwaters, hinterlands etc.
Scuba diving, snorkelling, angling are some other water based activities which are picking up. Goa’s river waters are also an attraction for yachts and sailing expeditions and competitions are organized often. Water based sports tourism is getting popular. We have luxury cruise liners sailing to Goa with foreign tourists. This year we are expecting a bigger response.
E-visa initiative has turned Goa into an important port of arrival; well prepared to back the demonetisation drive, says Nikhil Desai
Having already initiated a number of measures to facilitate cashless transactions, GTDC has no reason to worry on account of the government’s decision on demonetisation, which was evident by the footfalls that has remained unfazed to the unfoldings.
Demonetization has had an impact, in large and small measure, across the country. Given that Goa hosts a large number of tourists, domestic and international, what has been the impact of the government’s diktat on Goa’s tourism revenue? And, how long do you expect this to continue? Will this be a temporary blip, or will it have a long-term impact on the canvas of travel and tourism?
Go Tourism supports digitization of the economy. Goa, like the rest of the country, took the demonetization initiative of the central government within its stride. It was only at the initial stage that there was a minor impact but things stabilized and the tourism sector limped back to regular business within no time. We at Goa Tourism and GTDC had no reason to panic as initiatives to go cashless had begun months ago. In fact, Goa’s tourism sector was abuzz during the peak season (Nov-Dec) and continues to be bustling even today.
Given that cashless transactions are on the upswing, how are you aiding stakeholders to move towards the online space?
As I mentioned, Goa Tourism and GTDC already had its cashless systems in place and had no reason to panic. Our residencies and tourism services were all equipped with e-modes for payment and tourists co-operated in every possible way after November 8, 2016 with regards to cashless payments, bookings etc. The GTDC also took up awareness drives with other tourism stakeholders to facilitate a smooth transition to cashless payments and we got an encouraging response. So far, the transition is going effectively and smoothly.
On the outbound front, which countries would be a top priority? Goa has done well with Middle East in the monsoon season. In that light, which geographical regions and countries, to be specific, would be important for your outreach?
We are marketing and promoting Goa Tourism across the globe as a 365-day holiday destination. Every market is important for us be it Europe, Middle East, South East Asia, Scandinavia etc. With the introduction of the Electronic Tourist Visa regime, Goa has become a key port of arrival for foreign tourists from 150 countries from all across the globe. We are aggressively marketing Goa to the countries in the ETV regime and the response is encouraging. While Russia dominates the inbound list, the UK is also a very important market and direct flights to Goa are increasing every season. We can expect to see a surge of tourists from this segment. Goa Tourism does not miss an opportunity to make its presence felt at all key international events and we also use social media platforms to promote Goa Tourism widely.