Image makeover for
EVERYONE is aware of the fact that Goa is a kind of Promised Land for domestic tourists.
Politicians, beginning with the President to lesser-known ones, bureaucrats, celebrities, film stars, even the common man, everyone and his brother make a beeline to Goa for Christmas and New Year.
This is because Goa has
been projected as a fun place and ever since the hippies discovered it
in the mid-1960s it has that reputation. The Goan we all know is not
unduly concerned with what the foreigners do and that helps. May be the
influence of the Portuguese for over 400 years has contributed to this.
Then the projection of Bollywood as a fun place has added to this image.
But now the Goa Tourism Department wants to change that rather lewd
image. Not only has it contributed to cheap charter tourists but has
given Goa a bad name. In the 1990s, there came a flood of charters and
rooms that are as cheap as Rs 300 per day which is peanuts for the
foreigners. The foreign exchange earned by Goa too is negligible. What's
even worse it brought in pedophiles like Freddy Peats and his ilk (who
under the guise of caring for children use them as sex objects) who is
now cooling his heels in Aguada jail.
Another minus point is the glut of R & R (rest and relaxation) tourists who are reputed to be poor spenders. They may sit in a bar for the whole morning and consume only a bottle of beer. And many of them fit the description of pedophiles or study tourists because they have a better agenda. Wildlife is another subject that is now being promoted which means taking the tourists into the hinterland. So hotels make it a point to take their guests sight-seeing.
The new trend among hoteliers is to keep their clients busy all the time. In the evenings they have special entertainment for them. It may be a Calypso night or a Konkan night or an Indian Mexican night where the music and the food would match the place. Goan culture is also on offer so that the outsiders learn something about Goa and its past. And most of these nights are pre-paid, that is they are included in the original price of the ticket.
Sun Village in Arpora does this marketing rather well. For one thing, Arpora is a village situated away from the beach and there is an hourly shuttle which takes the guests to the beach. But for those who prefer to remain indoors it has two swimming pools, a gymnasium, a beauty parlour, pool tables and other forms of entertainment.
The motif of Sun Village naturally is the sun and there are all kinds of engravings from Ra the Egyptian Sun God to our own Surya. Begun in 1996, it has a 135-room capacity and a tariff of Rs 1750 per person which is upmarket, no doubt, but for those who can afford, it is value for money. The hotel run by two brothers Ralph and Norman D'Souza has won two international and one Indian award for its services. At the moment its occupancy is 70 per cent.
The idea is to the get the guests to see different parts of Goa and by this the Tourist Department aims to promote the arts and crafts of the state. To attain that the marketing and projection has to change. For too long Goa has been projected as a land of swaying palms and silver sands. Today the sands have turned grey and the palms sway only occasionally.
It is also the land of fish, football and feni, though not necessarily in that order. Fish and football you know but feni is the local brew (made from cashew or palm) and it stinks to the high heavens. Someone asked me if the cashew variety could not be removed. "But then, it wouldn't be feni," I told him. A good feni is one which does not burn as it goes down the throat but with the supply-demand equation heavily stacked in favour of demand it isn't easy to get a good feni in Goa which is indeed sad. A suggestion is to get in touch with a local connoisseur, but there again it is hard to distinguish the original from the fake.
Goan furniture is also a great attraction and it has a long history which dates back to much before the Portuguese occupation. However, the Portuguese influence is also strong and is reflected in furniture made in rosewood or teak and dully polished the figures of plants and animals on it are intricately carved.
Casa Goa, also in Calangute, is one of the most popular of such shops in North Goa ad one can be sure of getting authentic stuff in there. Actually the proprietor Cezar Pinto aims to promote the Goan crafts and hence the name Casa Goa. Pottery is another dying craft in Goa and Pinto has some exquisite pottery works on display. There are also old porcelain dishes and plates in blue and white with Chinese and Dutch designs which are typically Goan and a legacy of the Portuguese era. Terracota works are also in good number but it is the revival of the "azuleros" art having paintings on tiles that has recently caught on. Ladles and earthen pots used for cooking are also on display, so are sarees worn by the kunbis or tribals. All you want to know of Goa's origins are available at Casa Goa but the focal point is furniture which is what outsiders like most about the place.
"Crossroads" at Calangute is more within reach of the middle class and may be that's why the Brits flock to it. The 15-room hotel has a tariff of Rs 450 (air-conditioned) and Rs 400 for non-air-conditioned but it also has a bar called the Log Cabin and a restaurant called "Chippy" which you must have guessed specialises in fishíníchips. Run by Leslie Fernandes and his wife Daisy, it is open right through the year.
It is small hotels like "Crossroads" that are getting very popular with the tourists because they use it as a base to do their travelling. What's more, in the evenings the clients are kept busy with music or Karioke or even crooners belting off a few numbers.
The new area of interest is wildlife tourism and Goa has an abundance of it. There is the Bondla wildlife sanctuary and the Mollem National Park and they attract study tourists along with nature-lovers who want to be far from the madding crowd. Goa has a famous waterfall called Dudhsagar which is an hour's drive from the Mollem National Park. Then about 15 km from Mollem is Sunset Point, another major attraction. One has to drive all of 15 km on rough roads to reach there but it surely is worth the effort. The Goa Government plans to promote this kind of tourism but the process is frighteningly slow.
That tourism has peaked in Goa is obvious. With this battle for the tourism pie getting more intense, the Goans seem to have killed the goose that laid the golden egg. The fly-by-night operators have fallen by the wayside and now only the professionals have survived and they are doing their best to salvage the battered image of this one-time paradise.