Last week I spent couple of days at Goa International Travel Mart – 2014, a B2B event that brings together different players of the travel trade and allows the local product owners to showcase their product to buyers from across the globe including domestic buyers. There was a fair kind of setup that allowed people to showcase, interact and transact. There were media briefings about the new products and the future plans and of course there were Familiarization trips for both the media and the trade. End of it there was a knowledge session that focussed sharing new ideas for positioning Goa as a premier destination.
Before I put across my observations, I want to state that Goa is a major tourist destination by any standard. It has done quite a bit to reach and maintain that position. It was heartening to see that authorities are creating a 25 year long master plan for Goa Tourism – making it a key industry for the state. So here are some key points:
- Goa gets about 46% repeat visitors, some come every year and some from neighboring states many times every year. It is a very high figure for tourism industry and I think many other destinations would die to get somewhere there. Keep it up.
- Everyone emphasized the need to sustainable tourism – no one gave concrete steps though.
- Some key initiatives taken to address the tourist issues is – exclusive beaches for women and induction of lady life guards. This is probably the first time this has been introduced anywhere. I would be keeping a keen eye on it to see how it is received by the women and how is it executed and may be write about it at a later point in time.
- Festival Tourism : Goa has 1-2 festivals every month and each one is well promoted by the GTDC. Some are traditional and have been provided scale while others have been created ab initio to attract tourists or for tourists to do something any time they are here. Gia wants to introduce more festivals to its kitty. My opinion – Not desirable but understandable.
- Goa carries a strong branding for its Sun, Sea & Sand. GTDC is trying to position it as culture and heritage destination as well. Agree there are some heritage structures and some religious roots in the state – but are they the cornerstone of the state – I do not think so. Will it be easy to change the strong branding – lets see.
- GTDC wants to focus on religious tourism a la Andhra Pradesh that has Balaji and Tirupathi. I think it is a big mistake, because religious tourism happens based on faith and beliefs that a section of population has in a shrine. Ponda does have shrines for some Hindu communities but they are not big in numbers. The same goes for the Christian churches. I think these shrines will continue to attract the families that they do, pushing them to the tourist may not give too many results. But only time will tell, if marketing can outplay the faith element.
- They want to develop River Cruising and use rivers for navigation – very good idea – would lead to reduction of stress on the narrow roads of the state and would provide a novelty factor to the visitors.
- There were voices that spoke against the waste menace in the state, but no one spoke about the absence of public transport, specially to airport and to railway station.
- Goa was created as a tourist destination by the hippies and the backpackers. Today GTDC and industry wants to push them away and focus on the high spending customers only. My big question is Why? Carbon footprint of a backpacker is less than 10% of that of a high end traveler. When a tourist spends at a 5 star property, we do not know where that money goes but when a backpacker spends at a shack, a local eatery and shops around the every day shops – the money goes directly into the local economy effortlessly. A backpacker today would be a high spender tomorrow. Were we not all backpackers in our younger days? Are you saying you only need the greying population that can pay for high end hotels? To my mind the only spends that differ between a high end spender and a backpacker is the spend on accommodation. If a hotel chain wants to focus on a segment of customers it caters to – understandable, but if tourism authorities want to do that – I would want to question.
- Prof Kapil Kumar of IGNOU brought out many issues:
- He called tourism industry a hard economic warfare
- He spoke about politics of tourism
- He said safety is the prime issue that must be addressed else all marketing and promotion efforts would fail
- He pointed out that tourist today are much better informed than many service providers and they must upgrade themselves
- He professed the need for a marketing intelligence advisory – something that does not exist at this point in time
- He pointed that no one in the industry raised an eye-brow when airlines reduced the weight of luggage that can be carried on – while the tourist suffers and that would eventually mean that tourism will suffer
- He pointed the need for tourism research – a topic that I hope to contribute to sometime