TTAG's latest rant now is about the foreign junkets by the tourism department and minister. This is not the new normal. It is as old as when Goa’s tourism grew into an industry entirely motivated by personal gain while stumbling forward without a vision. In fact the stakeholders have turned their backs on the degradation of beaches. Grandiose plans, all commercially unsound and risky, have been made at great expense by consultants from outside Goa and put on ice.

(New Series)

May 7, 2019

Lionel Messias

It appears so. For years the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) had just one grouse: the bad boys of the taxi trade were to be blamed for over-charging domestic tourists and as a result gave Goa a ‘bad name'. Its president Savio Messias (and author of this refrain) reminds you of a few English TV anchors who just can’t stop ranting even if the answers they seek are already in the lengthy questions they ask, and then some more.

His latest rant now is about the in-excess of normal (my words not his) foreign junkets by the tourism department and the tourism minister. This is not a new phenomenon; it is as old as when Goa’s tourism grew into an industry entirely motivated by personal gain and nothing else and simultaneously stumbled forward without a vision for the future. In fact the so-called stakeholders have turned their backs on the very degradation of Goa’s beaches (lead pic courtesy Goaprism shows lamanis and touts tackling tourists) and tourism which is turning away the good tourist. Which is why TTAG needs a scapegoat.

Chickens have come home to roost

One example of how TTAG and the so-called stakeholders lost the plot manifests in the way Goa’s tourism has turned out for today’s expectant tourist. A senior official of the Afghanistan Government was arrested in Calangute recently after police raided a guest house and rescued two Uzbek sex workers. Mohammad Omar Arian, 28, is Director of Internal Audit, Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Afghanistan Government. Apparently Arian had already lawyered himself up in advance because his friend an Afghan national Mohammad Ajmal Hodama, 41, is a lawyer. So, if TTAG says the tourism department hardsells Goa in all the ‘wrong’ countries, than which is the right country? And, TTAG does not know which is the right country for the simple reason that it has not revealed it itself. Or, perhaps it is just too late, because the Afghanis apparently didn’t even need a tourist brochure to know where to go for a bit of R and R of the sleazy kind.

So do Russians, seeing as it is mainly they who have taken up to growing cannabis for sale to Russian tourists which is what Grigorii Fomenko and wife Viktoriia who worked from a greenhouse in Siolim, told police. The Goa police in fact have arrested eight foreigners between December 2017-April, 2019. Five of them are Russians, residing in Siolim. In other words Goa is losing out on the tourist numbers game, but not Kerala and Sri Lanka which are winning the numbers game as well as getting high-end tourists with the big bucks; because the two tourist destinations knowingly and willing kept out the sleazy end of tourism. Which Goa encouraged as if it were a means to an end.    

It’s R and R all the way

According to TTAG, the tourism department’s flying circus itinerary (my words not theirs) also looks like a bit of R and R for delegates and the minister: Amsterdam and Hungary (April 30-May 2), Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia (May 28-30), Los Angeles and San Francisco (June 4-6), Qatar and Oman (July 1-3).

But what are ‘wrong’ today were right countries once. I recall the then tourism minister Francisco Pacheco promoting ‘raindrop tourism’ I think in 2013. Pacheco in particular had a penchant for hardselling Goa abroad, once even flying within a week or so of being sworn in. “The heat is maximum during this time in Arab countries. Goa is the best place for them to visit in the rains,” Ralph de Souza, TTAG’s then spokesman had said. A group of 12 tour operators from the UAE visited Goa, D'Souza said, adding Goa could also tap the expat population living in the Middle East who look forward to venturing out for long weekends.

The best laid plans of mice and men….

Grandiose plans have been made at great expense by consultants from outside Goa and put on ice; by virtually every incumbent minister of tourism, as also every Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) chairman has come out with some inspiration or the other, all commercially unsound and risky (read more in part 2). Some actually make you want to cry. These are gems I remember.

In mid-2006, the GTDC said it intended to upgrade its chain of resorts to three-star category. With a dozen resorts, it wanted to add swimming pools to its existing properties along the coastline. Its chairperson, Fatima D’Sa, said then, “We plan to make our resorts one of the best beach resorts in the country and create a niche in the hospitality sector across the country with low tariffs.” I remember most the ‘Heritage House Scheme’ - all it did was gather dust on some shelf in the tourism department.

Frequent flier miles

It’s been decades literally that tourism officials have been travelling abroad, but exactly a decade ago (2009) I had researched this: Francisco (Micky) Pacheco, minister, tourism/housing – London – Rs 6,66,875, London – Rs 3,32,637, JP Singh; chief secretary – Shanghai – Rs 62,956, Frankfurt, Lisbon – Rs 2,50,794, Frankfurt, Berlin – Rs 4,94,981, New York – Rs 3,73,499, incurring a total expenditure of Rs 11,82,230; M. Moddasir, secretary (tourism) – Dubai – Rs 1,57,424, London – Rs 1,18,798, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai – Rs 1,40,046, Zurich, Madrid, Frankfurt – Rs 1,48,463, Shanghai – Rs 55,274, Dubai, London – Rs 1,75,652, incurring a total expenditure of Rs 7,95,657; Pamela Mascarenhas, dy. Director – Berlin – Rs 1,37,503; Arvind Loliyenkar, director of tourism – New York - Rs 72,738, London – Rs 1,68,997; Elvis Gomes, director of tourism – Lisbon 1,36,497; Anthony J D’Souza, officer on special duty (O.S.D) – Lisbon -1,64,452; Anthony J D’Souza, O.S.D – Lisbon, Madrid – Rs 2,14,749, VGS Navelkar, assistant director – Rs 1,62,649; Elvis Gomes – Dubai – Rs 60,943; JN Sangodkar, assistant director – Berlin – Rs 1,74,847; Elvis Gomes –Moscow – Rs 97,495; Hanumant Parsenkar, deputy director – Almaty, Kazakhstan – Rs 73,068; Elvis Gomes – Moscow – Rs 1,10,610; London – Rs 1,33,865; Pamela Mascarhenas –Lisbon – Rs 1,31,854; Swapnil M Naik, director of tourism – Berlin – Rs 1,48,852; Pamela Mascarhenas – Berlin – Rs 1,36,990; Francisco (Micky) Pacheco – New York – Rs 1,84,454; Sanjit Rodrigues, MD, GTDC – Sri Lanka – Rs 48,088; Shyam Satardekar, chairman, GTDC – London – Rs 3,06,381, Portugal – Rs 2,28,918, Moscow – Rs 2,07,197; Benjamin Braganza, MD, GTD – Portugal – Rs 1,69,818, Moscow – Rs 1,66,669. All that dizzy travel cost a huge Rs 6,41,5,033.

So, junkets abroad are not the new normal, even Savio Messias himself  was sent by the Goa government to Brazil before the Lusofonia Games held in Goa in 2014 to try and convince Brazil to participate in the Games. Mission impossible considering Brazil, the biggest powerhouse in the history of the Lusofonia Games, chose not to send their athletes because of the huge postponement of the competition. Also considering that both India and Brazil are part of BRICS, was there a need for someone to be sent by the Goa Government when the embassy could have done it, particularly when Brazil did not show?