Panaji, Jan 12 (IANS) Exorbitant taxis and over-enthusiastic policemen, who are trigger-happy penalising outstation vehicles, need to be reined in to salvage Goa's image as a friendly and feasible tourist destination, a tourism body official said.
Speaking to IANS on the sidelines of an event in Panaji on Friday, Savio Messias, President of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, said that the coastal state's inability to handle the burgeoning garbage crisis had also led to Japanese, Finnish and Danish tour operators pulling out of Goa, due to "safety and health concerns".
"There is widespread indiscipline among taxi operators and drivers, which is one of the main cause for driving away tourists from Goa. Taxis are so unaffordable, that tourists prefer to travel by their own cars, adding to stress on the road infrastructure," Messias said.
Travel and tourism industry stakeholders over the last few days have been discussing a sudden decline in Goa's tourism fortunes, especially after the festive Christmas and New Year week, saw a steep drop in footfalls.
Taxis in Goa are largely unregulated with no fare meter system in place and private cab drivers have often been accused of being aggressive as well as over-priced when it comes to service.
The absence of app-based taxi services like Ola and Uber have also compounded the problem, even as a state tourism ministry endorsed app-based taxi service GoaMiles has never really taken off, due to poor pricing patterns and unavailability, according to users.
While broader issues like a steep Goods and Services Tax slab impacting the price of hotel rooms, increase in unregistered rooms offered by online portals, poor marketing strategy, have been identified as key reasons for the drop, Messias also pointed out to basic flaws, like poor and corrupt policing, which have impacted Goa's image as a welcoming tourism destination.
"Police harassment is one of the most noticeable things. Whether it is due to targets set to policemen by their superior officers or government, we do not know. But it is so common to see cops stopping and fining tourists travelling in cars with a Maharashtra or Karnataka registration plates. In Goa, it appears that if you are a tourist, then you are treated like criminal," Messias said.
Messias also said, that Goa's international marketing strategy to promote the coastal state as a tourism destination, left a lot to be desired and blamed the tourism ministry for the mismanagement.
"The marketing strategy at international travel mart is unprofessional and these international visits are reduced to mere travel jaunts. The marketing strategy has become a joke, with politicians and even officials from the government's Public Works Department selling Goa as a destination on these jaunts," Messias said.
Messias also said, that the state government's figure of 7 lakh plus annual footfalls was inaccurate and demanded that the Tourism Ministry should commission a survey to find out the exact number of tourists visiting Goa every year.
"We do not believe the figure. We have requested the government to carry out a survey at all the borders, airlines, trains. We, as tourism and travel industry stakeholders are willing to support this. We need to understand the carrying capacity of Goa, before we make plans," Messias said.
The state's Tourism Ministry's inability to keep beaches and key tourist sites free of garbage has added to Goa's woe, he said.
"The state is full of garbage and our beaches are filthy. We are losing a lot of footfall because of this. Tourists don't want to come to Goa to see garbage. Beach cleaning has been delayed due to infighting between government departments for years. As a result Japanese, Finnish and Danish operators have pulled out of Goa citing safety and health concerns," he said.
Goa is one of the top beach and nightlife tourism destinations in the country and last year tourism ministry statistics revealed that more than seven million tourists visited the coastal state, out of which half a million were foreign tourists.