Ethical tourism important in Goa: Catholic Church

The tourism industry has received some advice from a most unlikely quarter – Goa’s Catholic Church!

With over 25 percent of the state’s population being Roman Catholic, the Catholic Church has a significant sway in Goa, which also attracts over 2.6 million tourists annually. But until now, it has remained silent on important economical issues such as tourism.

The Catholic Church claimed that it was only the rich and the powerful that were hiving off profits earned by Goa’s multi-million dollar tourism industry, leaving virtually nothing for the local inhabitants of the state. Speaking at an annual reception in the Bishop’s House, Archbishop of Goa Reverend Filipe Neri Ferrao said the State Government and the Goa Tourism Department needed to pursue “ethical and holistic” tourism initiatives.

“Our people seem to be systematically dispossessed by the powerful and the rich, who see their own profits as being of higher value than the people of the land,” Ferrao said.”Our anxiety stems from the fact that too few of benefits seem to percolate down to the genuine holders of rights over tourism, that is, the original inhabitants of our coastal areas where the bulk of tourism happens.”

Although falling short of suggesting “concrete technical guidelines” to make tourism sustainable, Ferrao said the tourism industry should not only consider economic, but also ethical issues.

Focusing on the common man, Ferrao said that the common man should be allowed to run “small businesses along the coast in order to compensate for their displacement”. At the moment, it is extremely difficult for a local person with no influence to start his own business. But if Goa’s tourism is to become sustainable in the long run, it must change this.

Truly sustainable tourism is tourism that benefits not only the guest but also a large portion of local society. Instead, it is only the large multinational hotel corporations such as Marriott, Taj and Leela that are making huge profits, with little of the economic boom trickling down to the local population. Few big hotels employ locals, preferring to bring in staff from bigger cities such as Delhi and Mumbai. In addition, foreign based hotel chains repatriate all their profits back to their home countries, leaving little money in the state.

It is only when the economic benefits of tourism benefit all, especially the small businessman, that tourism will be seen in a positive light. And this call by the Catholic Church is but the first step.



Visa On Arrival in Goa hopeful

There seems to be good news and bad news for the tourism industry in Goa. 

The good news is that the Indian government has decided to to ease restrictions on tourist visas that made a two-month gap between consecutive visits by foreign nationals to India mandatory. But while this is a step in the right direction, the bad news is that Goa still does not have the Visa On Arrival facility (VoA).

However, the tourism industry is hopeful that the India Government will finally heed Goa’s request to be allowed to issue Visas on Arrival (VoA). 

In my many years of experience in the tourism industry, the one thing that I have found to be most effective in increasing tourist visitors to a destination is by relaxing visa rules. Obama has understood this and as a result, the procedures to get a US visa have been drastically simplified. My mother got a 10 year US visa recently and even my sister easily got a US visa. 

Russia, on the other hand, still believes in making tourist visas as difficult to get. And that is one of the reasons why tourists prefer not to go to Russia. 

Goa, on the other hand, has been pressing for a simplified visa procedure for quite some time now.  

Nilesh Cabral, Chairman, Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC), has rightly described the decision to ease the two-month gap as a “good thing, a good step” but only the first step. Cabral said he is very happy that the Government of India has heeded the several requests from Goa government and the Goa tourism trade to ease the restriction. “Now, I hope they consider our request to enable Goa to issue VoA as that would be immensely beneficial to Goa tourism”.

And indeed it will. Travelling is difficult enough without having to go through the extra trouble of getting a visa. Thailand has understood this and offers Visas on Arrival for a number of countries. This is why Thailand is one of the most popular destinations worldwide. And the tourist numbers keep rising. 

Ralph de Souza, Spokesperson, Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG), said that this will particularly help Goa to cater to the 80 per cent Finnish tourists who visit Goa. If we can issue visa on arrival in Goa, the sagging Scandinavian market will be revived. We were losing lots of British tourists who were long stayers in Goa. This segment of tourists will come back now,” Souza said.

Presently, visa on arrival is only issued in the four metros of Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. This means that presently, if tourists want to avail of VoA, they have to come via Mumbai, which adds to their cost. This also works against direct charters landing in Goa. 

With the world economy down, India and Goa must try and do everything in their power to attract foreign tourists to the country. And a Visa on Arrival is one of the most effective means of doing so. The tourism industry in Goa provides livelihood to a large portion of the population and it is time that the Government did all it could to help this struggling industry. 

Not only should the Visa on Arrival facilitity be made available in Goa, the number of countries that are included should also be increased. While it is understandable that there are security concerns that need to be kept in mind, a balance between security and tourism must be found. 

Mechanised cleaning of Goa’s Beaches

Goa’s world renowned beaches that attract millions of tourists from around the world will now be cleaned by machines, according to a statement by Tourism minister Dileep Parulekar. 

Once considered pristine, Goa’s beaches are now filled with litter and hence massive mechanised cleaning machines will be put into service to clean Goa’s beaches. The advantages are huge – these specially designed machines are able to clean the beaches faster and more thoroughly than manual cleaning. These machines are not only able to clean larger rubbish such as plastic bags but are also able to suck in smaller pieces of garbage such as cigarette butts. 

While there are many advantages of such cleaning machines, environmentalists fear that the mechanised cleaning of Goa’s beaches could harm the animal life in the sand. Goa’s beaches are home to hordes of tiny sand crabs, which live in the porous sand pockets and environmentalists fear that these crabs that run about on the beach could also be picked up by these large machines. 

Another side effect of these beach cleaning machines is the loss of livelihood for the hundreds of manual beach cleaners who have been employed in the past. Unfortunately, neither the local newspapers nor the Tourism Minister has focussed on this aspect. Often, these beach cleaning personnel are the only breadwinners in the family and this sudden loss of income will definitely have a negative aspect on their ability to survive. It is a shame that in a country of over one billion, India and Goa have to resort to machines replacing people. While the concept of replacing people with machines has been popular in the west where labour is expensive, replacing people with machines seems rather absurd in India and Goa where there is an excess of cheap labour. 

The use of machines to clean up Goa’s beaches also goes to show that the tourists who come to Goa are not conscious enough of their surroundings to take their garbage with them. After smoking their cigarettes, tourists simply stub them out in the sand and leave them there. The same problem is with plastic chip packets and tetra pack juice packets. It is common to see vendors selling throwaway packets of chips and juice at the entrace to the Calangute / Baga beach. The tourists that purchase these packets simply throw them in the sand when they are empty.

While it is admirable that the Goa Tourism Department is making an effort to clean up Goa’s beaches, a concerted effort is required to educate tourists about the importance of not littering and keeping Goa’s beaches clean. Another effective measure is definitely the introducing of more garbage bins on the beach. The last time I walked along the Calangute – Baga beach stretch, I couldn’t find a single garbage bin in which to throw my rubbish.

The most popular beach-belt in Goa, which stretches from Baga beach to Sinquerim beach, is likely to be the first Goan beach where these machines will be tested followed by the Benaulim beach to Utorda beach stretch in South Goa. 

What do you think of the idea of using machines to clean Goa’s beaches ? Do let me know in the comments…

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Supporting Goan artisans

At my Mitaroy Heritage Homestay, Sustainability has always been an important part of our philosophy. We believe that as a business, it is important to give back to the community that we benefit so much from. 

And that is why we support this latest initiative by the Goa handicrafts, rural and small scale industries development corporation (GHRSSIDC) to support the local Goan artisans. 

Pottery and clay idol-making is a traditional Goan cottage industry and in order to motivate the traditional idol makers and ensure gainful employment to these artisans, the Goa handicrafts, rural and small scale industries development corporation (GHRSSIDC), an undertaking of the government of Goa has introduced a subsidy scheme in order to encourage this ancient art form. 

Under this scheme clay idols made by artisans registered with GHRSSIDC are subsidized to the extent of 100 per idol provided the idols are at least a foot high. The subsidy is given to the registered artisans after they submit their applications in the prescribed format at the GHRSSIDC office. 

Unfortunately, however, these idols must have a religious purpose i.e. only idols pertaining to religious festivals such as Ganesha idols for Ganesh Chathurthi or Infant Jesus idols for Christmas etc are supported by this initiative and idols made for decorative/aesthetic purposes are not covered under this scheme. 

Many of these idols and handicrafts are available at the local Government handicraft emporium “Aparant”, two of which are located within walking distance of my Mitaroy Heritage Homestay. We encourage our guests to visit these local Government handicraft emporiums, when they wish to purchase souvenirs to take back home with them. Not only do they get souvenirs that are of guaranteed quality, they are also doing their bit to support the livelihood of these artisans. 

Have you ever purchased an idol / handicraft from the Aparant Government handicraft emporium as a souvenir ? Do let me know in the comments…

Take your rubbish back with you, a Goan Village tells tourists

Goa’s world famous beaches attract nearly 3 million tourists every year.

Unfortunately, however, most tourists throw their rubbish on the beach itself, leaving Goa’s beaches dirty and full of garbage. Calls by the Goa Tourism department and the Goa Government as well as the Goa Coast Guard seem to have no effect on the amount of garbage generated on Goa’s beaches. Which is why a Goa beach village has now come up with the unique idea of making tourists carry back the garbage that they generate while spending time on the beach. 

Betalbatim, a small Goan beach village around 30 km from Panaji (the capital of Goa) passed a resolution recently mandating that tourists who picnic or party on its beach would be given plastic bags and made to carry back their garbage with them. 

What seems quite a drastic measure is in fact a last ditch response to clean up Goa’s beaches. Goa’s overcrowded beaches and countryside have seen garbage piling up, with the state failing to put in place a proper and effective garbage disposal mechanism. Beer bottles, empty tetra packs and chips packets can be seen strewn across the sand, left behind by the tourists.

But it must be said, in all fairness, that there are no proper dustbins or proper garbage disposal containers for those tourists who want to be responsible. Neither the coastal village panchayats nor the tourism department is equipped to safely dispose of the garbage collected by sweepers.

Whether this move would actually prove effective in helping minimise the amount of garbage thrown on the beach is to be seen. Garbage is one of the most contentious issues facing the Goa Tourism department along with overcrowding of its beaches.

Unfortunately, garbage on beaches is not a problem faced by Goa alone. A quick google search for “garbage beach” throws up some shocking results of beaches flooded by garbage including the famous Brighton beach which had a whopping 23 tonnes of garbage. 

What Goa needs is more dustbins along the beach as well as a proper garbage collection system that ensures that the collected garbage does not remain on the beach for a prolonged period of time. Goa is also testing a mechanised beach cleaning system that will clean the beaches more effectively and faster than manual cleaning methods. 

But mechanised beach cleaning or not, it is up to each and every one of us who visits the beach to make sure that we take back all our rubbish with us, instead of leaving it on the beach for someone else to clean up!