Goan, Goan, gone? In­dian state los­ing laid back im­age

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Goa has long at­tracted Western hol­i­day­mak­ers for its re­laxed vibe, but rapid con­struc­tion, swelling crowds and fears over safety are threat­en­ing the In­dian state’s global rep­u­ta­tion as a tran­quil haven.

The for­mer Por­tuguese colony is transforming from a quiet par­adise pop­u­lar with in­ter­na­tional hip­pies to a heav­ily-de­vel­oped en­ter­tain­ment des­ti­na­tion for higher-in­come for­eign and do­mes­tic vis­i­tors who want five-star lux­ury, tourism of­fi­cials say.

“The laid back tourist might go to other des­ti­na­tions be­cause Goa is chang­ing but now there are lots of other seg­ments com­ing such as MICE tourism (meet­ings, in­cen­tives, con­fer­enc­ing, exhibitions),” Savio Mes­sias, pres­i­dent of the Travel and Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion of Goa, told AFP. “Goa is also get­ting to be a very big wed­ding des­ti­na­tion and a lot peo­ple are now com­ing for en­ter­tain­ment,” he added.

Bill­boards ad­ver­tis­ing lux­ury de­vel­op­ments dot Goa’s lush land­scape, with Mes­sias say­ing many new ho­tels, in­clud­ing big chains, are open­ing up ev­ery year. Govern­ment sta­tis­tics show In­dian vis­i­tors soared by 34 per­cent to 4.7 mil­lion last year from 2014 while for­eign­ers in­creased by just 5 per­cent as the num­ber of char­ter flights plum­meted.

The slug­gish global econ­omy and a slump in the value of the Rus­sian ru­ble are reg­u­larly cited as fac­tors but lo­cal busi­nesses fear Western­ers are be­ing turned off by Goa’s rapidly al­ter­ing land­scape. “Day by day the num­ber of for­eign­ers com­ing is get­ting less be­cause they hear it is too crowded here now. They want peace and quiet. “Over the past two to three years busi­ness has been very low,” Mo­hammed Sul­tan, a jew­elry shop owner at Baga beach, told AFP.

An im­mi­nent ban on al­co­hol con­sump­tion in some pub­lic ar­eas, plans to shift the pop­u­lar Sun­burn mu­sic fes­ti­val out of peak sea­son and min­is­ters’ com­ments that beach par­ties are il­le­gal and biki­nis should be banned are also con­tribut­ing to fears the Goan party could be over. “I think it af­fects Western­ers’ think­ing. They want to be free to en­joy their hol­i­day,” said Sul­tan. At nearby An­juna beach, where Bri­tish school­girl Scar­lett Keel­ing died in 2008, sari-clad women who ply its sands sell­ing trin­kets to vis­i­tors worry that In­dia’s rep­u­ta­tion as a des­ti­na­tion that is dan­ger­ous for women is hav­ing an im­pact. “I think the news sto­ries about Scar­lett have made peo­ple not come. Maybe they are wor­ried,” 39-year-old Mon­ica Tipi told AFP be­fore eye­ing a sale from an In­dian cou­ple.

The ac­quit­tal last month of two lo­cal men ac­cused of drug­ging, sex­u­ally as­sault­ing and then leav­ing 15-year-old Keel­ing to drown in shal­low water was the cul­mi­na­tion of a case that had high­lighted Goa’s seed­ier side.

Sev­eral high-pro­file sex­ual as­saults against women across In­dia, in­clud­ing the fa­tal gang-rape of a stu­dent in Delhi in 2012, has shown a global spot­light on fright­en­ing lev­els of vi­o­lence against women in the coun­try.

“The news sto­ries haven’t put us off. We feel safe but we wouldn’t travel on our own. We al­ways stick to­gether,” 26-yearold Aus­tralian Chloe Cato, who’s trav­el­ling round In­dia with a friend, told AFP at An­juna.

Bri­tain’s govern­ment warns in its travel ad­vice for In­dia that Bri­tish women have been sex­u­ally as­saulted in Goa and says a num­ber of its na­tion­als die in the state ev­ery year due to drug or al­co­hol abuse.

Goa-based lawyer Vikram Varma, who acted for Keel­ing’s mother and who also rep­re­sents the Rus­sian con­sulate, says po­lice have failed to in­ves­ti­gate the deaths of sev­eral for­eign­ers over the last decade or so. “Crime does hap­pen ev­ery­where, but when the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem it­self prefers to blame the vic­tim and pro­tect the crim­i­nals, a large num­ber of fam­ily tourists pre­fer to hol­i­day in safer en­vi­ron­ments,” he told AFP.

The num­ber of Rus­sian tourists vis­it­ing Goa plum­meted from 120,000 in 2013 to just 40,000 in 2014 but is pre­dicted to bounce back to around 100,000 this sea­son due to Moscow declar­ing Egypt and Turkey un­safe for its cit­i­zens, ac­cord­ing to Varma. They may choose to visit the casi­nos that line the river run­ning through the state cap­i­tal Panaji or take a ride on a new am­phibi­ous tourist boat. He­li­copter rides and trips on sea­planes are also be­ing launched. “The kind of tourists com­ing to Goa has been chang­ing... We are tar­get­ing the more high-end tourist,” said Mes­sias, adding that the state’s char­ac­ter will evolve as a re­sult. “Some sec­tions of the in­dus­try are very happy about this change but some are not.” — AFP

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kuwait

© PressReader. All rights reserved.