Menino D’Souza, Director of Tourism, Govt of Goa, and also the Goa Excise Commissioner in an interview with Vincent Fernandes, Executive Editor, Ambrosia, outlines Goa Tourism’s policies and decisions and tourism and trade activities to make Goa a top tourism destination.”

Has tourism in Goa recovered from the Covid impact?

The sector has been resilient in the wake of COVID-19 with heartening numbers observed across tourism businesses and hotspots especially beaches over September to December 2021. The Department undertook a COVID-19 awareness campaign through digital and physical means flagged off from the World Tourism Day on 27 September 2021 to encourage COVID appropriate behavior in the state. The state saw resumption in international charter arrivals from December 2021. The domestic tourist arrivals via air to Goa in December 2021 was approx. 8.16 lakh, a 14% increase over December 2019 (pre-pandemic). In the run up to the third wave, especially around Christmas and New Year 2021 a major spike in hotel, restaurant and event bookings was reported. Hotels saw 90-100% occupancy in December 2021. This was despite COVID-19 restrictions in place. The industry also benefited from various Government schemes and relief measures which were introduced to facilitate the sector post COVID-19.

The last 10-year tourist footfall trend till 2021 is as follows and it showcases the impact of Covid on the tourism footfalls and the increase in the footfalls post 2020 showcased a positive trend of recovery:

A detailed report name “Coping with COVID-19” on the same was compiled and released by Hon’ble Chief Minister of Goa. The major interventions by Goa tourism to assist the revival of the tourism industry:

COVID specific SOPs and protocols were developed and implemented for the tourism businesses and incoming domestic tourists (via air, rail and road) to enable safe opening of the state and instill confidence among the tourists.

Only registered tourism establishments following the safety protocols were allowed to undertake tourist bookings to ensure compliance to the COVID protocols.

Series of Webinars were also conducted for the industry stakeholders to prepare themselves in regard to the COVID protocols and also Tourism Helpline was set-up to enquire about the availability of COVID beds.

Due to the said protocols in place, Goa became the first state to receive the globally recognized “Safe Travels Stamp” by WTTC, to induce confidence among the tourists.

Goa was the first state in India to open borders for tourism from 8th June 2020, which provided tourism businesses an opportunity to revive and welcome domestic tourists.

Social Media Campaigns were launched to increase communication with the domestic tourists and encourage safe tourists to visit Goa vide travel advisory, off-beat places to visit, COVID scenario in the state, tourism offerings open for the tourists etc.

Marketing campaigns focused on targeting domestic tourists and also the outbound tourists that are unable to visit foreign locations due to travel restrictions.

Promotion of Goa as safe destination, where majority of the local population and all tourism establishment staff have received at least one dose of COVID vaccine.

Marketing hinterland destinations of Goa to allow tourists to explore the natural offerings, waterfalls and the unseen side of Goa.

The confidence induced by the safety arrangements made in the state for the tourists led to more than 30 lakh domestic tourists visiting Goa from Sep’20 to Mar’21.

To sum up, business can proliferate in the state through effective and conscientious COVID-19 management across tourism stakeholders. Through a collaboration between the government, industry and tourists it can ensured that even in this new normal, visiting Goa continues to be a safe and a memorable experience.

Are international tourists coming back to Goa? When can you expect things to be normal?

The major interventions by Goa Tourism Industry as discussed above led to the revival of Tourism in the State. Targeted marketing and promotions gave tourists the confidence that Goa was a traveler’s heaven, as was evidenced in the high tourist arrivals when the state opened for tourists from July 2020. While Domestic Arrivals were high, foreign arrivals in the State were low initially. This number has now improved considerably, and Goa is currently experiencing a high inflow of foreign tourists. The number of foreign tourists went up from 22,000 in 2021 to 24,000 in just first three months of 2022.

As COVID -19 is fading away, the number of foreign tourists arriving in the state is likely to go up. Major interventions by the Department of Tourism, which include Responsible Tourism, promoting hinterlands, introducing wellness labels etc will contribute to attract more foreign tourists into the state.

In addition, to this the the upcoming international airport at Mopa will further strengthen the air connectivity, especially direct air connections with several countries around the world, thereby bringing in more International Tourists. In order to promote and encourage more international chartered flights in the State, the Government of Goa has also proposed to reduce the burden on chartered flights by reimbursing a part of parking and landing fees at Dabolim International Airport. An amount of Rs. 5 Cores has been allotted, wherein the Department will provide reimbursement up to a maximum of Rs. 1.00 lakh on the landing charges for international charters from the date of notification of the scheme. The Scheme has been notified in Official Gazette on 14/10/2021.

The domestic tourism is already on its way to be back on track, however as per the WTTC & UNWTO the international market is expected to normalize by 2024.

How is Goa trying to attract high end tourists?

Goa is well connected by air, land and sea, thereby attracting affluent international & domestic tourists by cruises, yacht and charter services. While the State has a good connectivity through air, land, train and sea, the upcoming international airport at Mopa and the international cruise terminal at Mormugao will further strengthen the air connectivity, especially direct air connections with several countries around the world.

Also, to attract high spending tourists the state has envisioned to enhance the infrastructure and following development projects are in progress:

Model beach shacks with ancillary supporting amenities and workcation set-up on the beach fronts

High-end music festivals and ancillary international events

Large infrastructure projects such as Ropeway, 5-star accommodation units etc.

High end Jetty terminal building

Development of eco

Development of Goa Haat & App for online sale of handicrafts

Ecotourism & Nature education park for Western Ghats

With the appointment of a full service PR agency, synchronized marketing & promotions shall further enhance the reach and attract similar kind of tourists. Goa has been attracting high end tourists as :

Goa receives the maximum numbers of Charters in India (≈ 90% of India arrivals); over 1,45,000 tourists from nations such as Australia, United States, European countries etc. visit Goa on annual basis.

Mormugao Port trust has a dedicated berth for cruise ships and hosts a variety of cruises annually, over 50,000 tourists from nations such as Argentina, Australia, Denmark, etc. visit Goa on annual basis.

The state is home to global 5-star hotel chain such as Taj, Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt etc. and has forts such as Fort Tiracol heritage hotel and Fort Aguada which are well restored and converted to heritage hotels to welcome guests for a luxury stay.

Further, the state has approx. 500 number of Cat-A (4/5 Star) and luxury villa properties with a room inventory of 12,750+. Goa has the highest average room rate in the country (ARR 2020-21 =100.15 USD)

Goa offers several meditation retreat and yoga centers along the coastal stretch as well as in the hinterlands with professional instructors. Tourist both internationally and nationally specially visit the state for Ayurveda and yoga sessions.

The state has beach shacks/cottages built with ecofriendly materials overlooking the sea, staying in such shacks is one of the unique and best experiences,

Some shacks not only serve delectable food but also have facilities such as free Wi-Fi, yoga sessions , live music, cultural performances etc.

Further, Goa tourism has also introduced high end tourism services such as Hot air balloon ride, yacht service, bungee jumping etc. and services such as seaplane and heli-services would be launched soon.

Goa has always been a favorite destination for people looking for best in class gaming facilities. Goa offers offshore live gaming through vessels parked in the River Mandovi and onshore digital gaming in its five-star luxury hotels.

Is there a problem of excess tourists in Goa which is a strain on infrastructure?

Goa is seeing a healthy growth of tourist joy. In the last few years there has been a drop in tourist arrivals, especially international due to Covid 19. The industry has recently started recuperating and seeing a growth in tourist arrivals. Increase in tourist arrivals is key to growth of tourism sector. The focus is on attracting more high value and responsible tourists going ahead through a focus on a bouquet of tourism products. While there are some pockets/ tourist hotspots which see significant tourist footfalls, it is envisaged that increased focus on niche tourism products and services including hinterlands, nature/ eco and heritage that would result in shared benefits to the industry and state.

The recently approved Tourism Master Plan enlists the tourist carrying capacity analysis of Goa. As per the analysis, beach carrying capacity might be breached thereby diversion of tourists to hinterlands is being promoted by Goa Tourism. However, the ecological carrying capacity of Goa is sufficient for next 25 years and only outrages shall be due to non-uniform distribution of utilities. In line with the Tourism Master Plan and Policy, Goa tourism has been reimaging its brand image from being “Sun- Sand- Sea destination” to “Responsible and sustainable tourism destination”. Focus is also being placed to showcase Goa as a year-round destination through development of an event calendar which would result in evening out of tourist spread.

What efforts are being made to attract investments in the tourism industry?

The state Government has constituted the ‘Goa Tourism Board’, headed by Hon. Chief Minister, an apex body for planning, policy making, strategizing, and overseeing the implementation of various tourism programs and initiatives in the State. This Board will have equal representation from Government and private sector, making it investor friendly and showcases our willingness to collaborate with private sector in development of tourism infrastructure in the state. The state also offers a wide range of fiscal and policy incentives for businesses under the Industrial Policy, 2003 and the Goa Investment Policy, 2014 to boost investor confidence.

Goa tourism’s strategy is based on – Government’s role in development of tourism infrastructure shall be enabling and supervisory in nature, while the private sector will be invited for developing, operating, and managing the tourism infrastructure. This philosophy shall help us to witness significant shift in the tourism investments in the state. Goa has a wide range of investment opportunities in the hospitality and tourism industry across accommodation, wellness, heritage, MICE and weddings. Moreover, there are multiple 5- star and 4-star hotels in the pipeline, besides other facilities like MICE facilities, heritage facilities and adventure hub besides opportunities in spiritual, wellness and rejuvenation businesses.

Apart from marquee tourism infrastructure developments, Goa Tourism is developing and upgrading essential infrastructure in the state such as public conveniences including shower rooms and cloak rooms, Tourist Information centers, parking lots, installation of CCTV cameras for safety & surveillance, creation of Wi-Fi hotspots, and GIS mapping of various tourism related infrastructure. While the State has a good connectivity through air, land, train and sea, the upcoming international airport at Mopa will further strengthen the air connectivity, especially direct air connections with several countries around the world. The enhanced infrastructure shall further enable the private developers to create tourism assets and promote new tourism destinations.

Moreover, Goa Tourism shall participate in prominent international and national travel exhibitions & tradeshows to attract investors to the state.

Is Goa an attractive destination for luxury tourism and any plans to improve the infrastructure?

Tourism is one of the prime industries in Goa, which contributes to over 16% of state GDP and supports over 40% of jobs and livelihood opportunities in the state. The state has been attracting both high-end domestic & foreign tourists consistently and offers luxury tourism services & products. The state has approx. 3800 Hotels and other accommodation units across four categories (A/B/C/D) that are registered with Department of Tourism. Among the aforesaid hotels, 82 nos. are under the luxury category. Apart from marquee tourism infrastructure developments like Renovation & Development of Aguada Jail premises, Goa Tourism has been constantly developing basic and necessary infrastructure in the state such as public conveniences including shower rooms and cloak rooms, Tourist Information centers, parking lots, installation of CCTV cameras for safety & surveillance, creation of WiFi hotspots, and GIS mapping of various tourism related infrastructure. While the State has a good connectivity through air, land, train and sea, the upcoming international airport at MOPA will further strengthen the air connectivity, especially direct air connections with several countries around the world.

Also, to further strengthen the local connectivity, the government is the process of procuring electric buses, which shall further benefit the tourists to commute to other places in the state.

What new projects are being undertaken to make Goa a destination for tourists with a propensity to spend?

Tourism is the backbone of Goan economy, with 40% of the population directly or indirectly dependent on it. Goa Tourism Policy has been developed in a collaborative manner over a period of two years, incorporating the feedback and advice from various stake holders in Goa in order to make Goa the most preferred destination around the year for high-spending tourists in India by 2024, and a world-class international tourism destination by 2030. As part of the policy, various initiatives were facilitated like destination development for coastal tourism, culture and heritage tourism, nature-based tourism, leisure and entertainment and Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions(MICE) and Weddings.

The plethora of assets offer the ground to develop sustainable and responsible tourism products to attract tourists. Goa Tourism seeks to diversify its identity to nature, wellness, culture and heritage to encourage the tourist to experience the “Unexplored Goa”. With the effort to provide the finest Tourism related services to the visitors, Goa Tourism has undertaken various developmental projects & new tourism services in the state. Introduction, Operations and Management of Seaplane Service in Goa

Apart from the above projects, Goa Tourism had launched various New Tourism Services in the state to promote comprehensive tourism experience for the tourists. Below listed are few operational services in the state:

Hot Air Balloon; Bungee Jumping; White-water rafting; SCUBA Diving; Motorized Paragliding; E Bike tours; Heritage Boat Cruise; and Nautical Tours

Moreover, Goa tourism is in process of launching the following high spending tourism services in the state:

Heli Services

Introduction of Multimodal Experiential Tours through Offbeat Tourist Transport Services in Goa – Hop On-Hop Off Bus, Amphibious Tour Vehicle and Personal Transportation Vehicle

Sky Diving

Further, Goa tourism is in process of completing the niche thematic proposals related to ‘60th Anniversary of Liberation of Goa’ and ‘Swayampurna Goa’ in order to boost the economy, cultural discussion and job opportunities in the state. Few of the projects are as stated below:

Development of villages

Digital Museum at Aguada Fort depicting Goa’s liberations struggle

Development of Goa Haat & App for online sale of handicrafts

Ecotourism & Nature education park for Western Ghats

Trekking Corridors / Nature Trails and Camping Area in Hinterlands

Hospitality & Skill development Academy for imparting professional and vocational training to youth in hospitality and allied industries

Also, Goa has always been a preferred destination for wedding across the country. The state has multiple options for hosting weddings of all scales. During the lockdown the big Indian weddings took a back seat because of various restrictions imposed by the central and state governments, but as the restrictions are eased there is an upward trend in hosting wedding and parties in the state. Soon after Goa was opened to tourists, there is an increasing number of pre-wedding shoots across various touristic locations in the state.

In the run up to the third wave, especially around Christmas and New Year 2022 a major spike in hotel, restaurant and event bookings was reported. While some event cancellations were observed in January- February 2022, overall, the sector remained resilient.

Goa is an attractive alcobev destination with many companies setting up shop. What steps are being taken to bring in the major players to set up base in Goa?

The state government’s department of excise undertakes administration and regulation of alcohol in the state in accordance to the Goa Excise Duty Act and Rules, 1964.

Goa has already developed itself as an alcobev destination and is thereby attracting similar cliental. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, Goa was recentering its strategy through its Tourism Master Plan & Policy 2020 that was approved by the state cabinet, towards a more responsible form of tourism. It was believed that, given the size and the environmental vulnerability of Goa, it is wiser to prioritize quality tourism over large footfall volumes. Responsible tourism can help us meet this objective. Now, the on- going crisis has definitely consolidated our belief in responsible travel.

Typically, why only promote beautiful beaches when Goa has lot more to offer to tourists including our niche culture, rich heritage, natural attractions and unexplored villages. A strategic approach is being followed to reinvent the tourism scenario and offerings.

Each year the tourism department organizes the following festivals to allow new brands in this category to introduce itself to the Goan market:

The spirit of Goa

The grape escapade goa

How do you plan to make Goan feni a truly international category like a tequila etc.?

Feni is one of the world’s most exotic spirits & best-known liquor in the country. It shares a history of at least 200 years and is imbibed into heritage & folklore of Goa. Feni is a distilled spirit & comes in expressions of Cashew & Coconut. Tourists have been enjoying the taste of feni, state’s signature brew since long. The last decade has seen feni become a unique souvenir of Goa.

The Government of Goa was able to receive a GI tag for Cashew Feni in 2009. It was a moment of pride because it was Goa’s first GI and happened to be first alcohol registered as GI in India and from India. Feni was  declared a state heritage drink in 2016.The idea for applying a GI tag for Feni was to make it a  global brand like Tequila & benefit the people involved in its production.

Department of Tourism has started guided tours to bhatis – place where the spirit is brewed using traditional method.  In addition to this the Department has started Feni trails to explore the story behind making of Feni and offer tourists a firsthand tasting experience. The Government is also working on standardizing a range of strength for feni to be distilled & sold & on enforcing a competent authority to check the purity & integrity of bottled feni and formulation of Feni Policy so that a clear & well-articulated vision for development of Feni is in place. As a part of this various initiatives taken by the government include mandatory FSSAI registration for all distillers, assistance from FDA to prescribe basic standards, Feni standard Certificate, state certified Feni Logo, training in best practices etc.

Department of Tourism also organizes various festivals. e.g Spirit of Goa to promote Feni and is looking to organize such festivals in other parts of the country as well. Also, the famous drink of Goa is promoted during the various national & international roadshows, travel marts. These steps will ensure that Feni has a potential market like world famous liquors – tequila & Scotch Whisky.

What steps are being taken to make Goa a great MICE destination given that there are casino’s which are magnets for MICE visitors?

Goa is often referred as “Event capital of India”, as it organizes several events on regular basis in the State such as IFFI, Carnival, Shigmotsav, Lok utsav, sunburn etc. The state flaunts several existing venues including the banquet spaces of various hotels for organizing events / exhibitions / events, which has the capacity of handling over 75000 pax. Moreover, there are more than 250 registered event organizers in the state.

The state is developing an event calendar which shall be inclusive of various major and minor tourism events & festivals that are celebrated in Goa. The said event calendar shall be widely marketed and promoted to not only attract tourists but shall also attract investments in the MICE space to further increase the impact of the events.

Hotels and venues are reinventing their business models to develop innovative and new revenue streams. Focus is likely to shift to restaurants, small corporate meetings, weddings and social events. Alternate revenue streams such as relevant meeting technology, outdoor catering, customized away-from-office workspaces, laundry packages etc., are coming into the forefront.

Moreover, the state government is in process of appointing a PR agency which shall further recommend and synchronize the approach towards marketing the state as a prominent MICE destination. The department of tourism is also developing a convention center at Rua De Ourem along the creek of Pato, Panajim with a capacity of approximately 2000 PAX, which shall soon be commercially operational.