Navigating Goa Beyond Sun, Sand & Sea

“The concept of sustainability, which is to sustain or maintain the ecosystem, whereas regenerative tourism is to revive.” – Shawn Mendes

“Everyone knows that Goa definitely has beyond beaches, but to develop it as a concept into the minds of the people and convince is a big thing.” – Suneel Anchipaka

“We are trying to find the right balance of what the exact limit of carrying capacity and sustainable tourism can be and where should we draw the line.” – Prem Kumar

“Even before thinking about regeneration, we must first think about what Goa did right and build on this foundation.” – Ralph De Souza

While the world revels in Goa’s sun-kissed shores, vibrant shacks, and exciting nightlife, a new narrative emerges from its rich history and diverse landscape. Goa Tourism Board along with Goa Tourism Development Corporation now seeks to focus on the lesser-known tourism aspects of Goa, beyond its popular white sandy beaches, coastal shacks, and nightlife.

In its products potpourri, Goa now looks at emphasizing it’s other offerings such as heritage and culture, its rural hinterland and village lifestyle, its bouquet of eco-tourism offerings, river cruise possibilities, medicinal springs, rich tropical biodiversity of the Western Ghats, and many more. In the recently concluded Goa International Travel Mart, that put focus on its new vision of Regenerative Tourism, a panel discussion named ‘Goa: Beyond Sun Sand & Sea’ spotlighted the kaleidoscope of Goa’s tourism products beyond the famous Sun, Sand and Sea. But the question is, is the new vision relevant, given the prevailing perceptions surrounding Goa?

During the discussion, moderator Shawn Mendes, OSD to the Hon’ble Minister of Tourism, began with a note discussing certain pillars of the vision ‘Regenerative tourism’. The first one is the restoration and regeneration, secondly it is community engagement, followed by cultural respect, economic benefits, environmental stewardship, and long-term sustainability. He reiterated the concept of sustainability, which is to sustain or maintain the ecosystem, whereas regenerative tourism is to revive. According to him, the basic three constituents of regenerative tourism are – the environment, the people, and the economy.

Challenges for Regenerative Tourism

Change in Mindset

Suneel Anchipaka, IAS, Director of Tourism & MD of GTDC mentioned that when one talks about Goa, the first thing that automatically comes to minds is beaches and party life. The key challenge is to change this mindset. That is where the government along with the key stakeholders are working together to let people explore Goa beyond beaches. “If you look at the hinterlands of Goa, it is absolutely beautiful and so are our traditional aspect, all such elements are a testimony to Goa’s heritage and culture. Everyone knows that Goa definitely has beyond beaches, but to develop it as a concept into the minds of the people and convince is a big thing”, added Anchipaka.

The second challenge he mentioned is to convince the key stakeholders and tell them that these are the products at the grassroots level that they can showcase to the world. Then comes the challenge of skilling where the government has collaborated with several digital platforms like MakeMyTrip, Airbnb and others. He mentioned that there are also collaborations through social-private partnerships with the communities, as the core component for them is the communities.

Goa is one of the first states to start with concept of regenerative tourism, and Anchipaka opined that the State wants to lead by example. “We want to show the world that this is possible by launching one of the key initiatives which is ‘Ekadasha Teertha’. We have chosen more than 11 spiritual complexes where we are actively engaging all the communities on how to reach out and benefit from them”, Anchipaka opined.

Destination Carrying Capacity

Prem Kumar, IFS, Dept. of Forest, Government of Goa highlighted that when the State wants people to explore the less-explored areas, there comes the question of infrastructure. When infrastructure increases, the carrying capacity also increases. The State has to look at the differences of the demographics of the tourist population when designing the carrying capacity.

There also comes the question of sustainability. He further added, “When we talk about sustainability, we tend to limit our focus only to an environmental point of view. But we also have to look at the economic aspect as well. For any venture to be successful, we have to be successful for a long time. We are trying to find the right balance of what the exact limit of carrying capacity and sustainable tourism can be and where should we draw the line.”
 
Educational Programs

The third challenge highlighted was by PP Khanna, National President, ADTOI that indicated the need of having educational programmes with the support of the clients, government, and locals which can communicate the world what they can explore beyond beaches. “We must also offer responsible tourism aspects, where we communicate the visitors about their responsibilities. We must tell them to respect the local culture, how the locals live and eat. Once we go and explore hinterlands of a region, we must support the conservative efforts of that place”, opined Khanna.

Cultural & Rural Development

Another area that requires focus was defined by Sagun Velip, Director, Dept. of Art & Culture, Government of Goa, referring to the responsibility of preserving and protecting the culture. “If you want to see the origin of any culture, you have to go to the rural places. We are looking at promoting Shigmo festival at the State and Taluka levels for the artists to showcase their best to the tourists. I see the tourists enjoying the performances, dancing to the tunes, and taking glances of the aesthetics of the culture. It seems that we are providing the platform for the artists who can sustain the culture, make their livelihood as well as showcase the beauty of the State too. If we talk about Goa beyond beaches, we have to go to hinterlands and look at developing villages, as the village people are the real craftsperson who identify and craft innovative products that can gain good response in terms of tourism”, mentioned Velip.

Agro-Tourism

Dr. R Solomon Rajkumar, Senior Scientist and Coordinator, ICAR – Agro-ecotourism Center, ICAR-CCARI (Gov. of India), Goa mentioned that this is the time when the climate, culture, and the communities must be restored. The carbon footprint is one of the major aspects where the State needs to look at in the tourism industry. He added, “As the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, we are now educating the concept of Agro-Tourism, and to it we now added ‘Agro-Eco-Tourism’, because regeneration and sustainability should always go hand-in-hand with the tourism industry”. Goa’s land is covered 60% with forests and agriculture, but most of the conventional tourism happened in the other parts of Goa. “We should bring people beyond the beaches. The richness in varieties of locally grown crops and vegetables you find in Goa cannot be found anywhere else, which come from the hinterlands of Goa. And that is where we need to take our tourists to, giving a very refreshing area other than the beaches”, Rajkumar added.

He also added, “Goa has Kulagar traditional farming system which uses the regenerative concept of natural farming, that will work as a system to conserve the carbon, that the farmers can think about trading. So the focus is on being carbon negative in the hinterlands, and in future Goa tourism industry should be carbon neutral, if not carbon negative.”

Sustainable operations in hotels

“The change in mindset should happen from the customers’ also”, opined Hemant Jaiswal, Area Director of Human Resources – Goa, IHCL. He further added, “They should not ask for plastic bottle containing water when they stay in a hotel. Right now, we have own bottling plants in our hotels, and 22 water bottling plants across India and a plan to have the same in all our hotels. The water that we provide is sealed RO water, but still guests somewhere don’t trust. So, that adds up to a challenge in terms of ensuring plastic free operations.”

The foundation first

Contributing significantly to the discussion, Ralph De Souza, Imm. Past President, Goa Chambers of Commerce & Industry and Past President, TTAG added, “During 1990’s, Goa was amongst the top 10, and during 2000s amongst top 7 tourist destinations in the world to be visited. Goa must have done something right.Even before thinking about regeneration, we must first think about what Goa did right and build on this foundation.”

“We talk about presenting the visitors more than the beaches and presenting the hinterlands of Goa. But hinterlands are a basket of most incredible natural creations, that we need to trade softly. Homestays have nothing to do with projects, it is hospitality from one’s heart, and this comes with soft skills. Another USP of Goa is its uniqueness. We have to give guests what they want to see, and not what we want them to see”, concludes DeSouza.

Kuhelika Roy Choudhury