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Post-Pandemic Revival of Tourism in Goa

Tourism industry that was almost completely crushed under the pandemic lockdown, had bounced back soon after the lockdown restrictions were lifted by the state government.
Post Pandemic Revival of Tourism
Image Credits - Aakash Ghadge
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The Covid-19 pandemic crushed  entire businesses across the world, leaving hundreds of thousands of people jobless. Many businesses were forced to close down permanently, leaving several crores of people debt-ridden. Goa is one of the most sought-after tourism destinations in the world and suffered a huge setback due to the lockdowns. The lockdown that started in 2020 lasted till the end of  2021, leaving the tourism industry completely devastated. The post pandemic revival of the tourism industry is has been shared by the some of the stakeholders of the tourism industry in Goa. 

Incredible Goa had hosted an online Panel Discussion  on the subject of  “Post-Pandemic Revival of The Tourism Industry in Goa” on the occasion of  ‘World Tourism Day’. The event was attended by  many stakeholders of the tourism industry across Goa. 

The main agenda of the event was to put the spotlight on the prevailing situation in the travel and tourism industry and hence we had called  speakers from three sections: The hospitality industry was represented by Vincent Ramos, the Area Director of IHCL, Nilesh Shah, President of TTAG, represented the Tourism Stakeholders of Goa and Varun Hegde, the owner of  Soul Travels, a company that gives an offbeat experience to  tourists coming into Goa. 

Tourism industry that was almost completely crushed under the pandemic lockdown, had bounced back soon after the lockdown restrictions were lifted by the state government. It was a long dark night of uncertainty and depression that the entire tourism industry of Goa suffered but there was a ray of hope as soon as the clouds of lockdown cleared. 

The main challenge was the resumption of post-lockdown tourism. The pandemic still continues today but in the face of that, revival was still wholly necessary. The entire idea of the event was to create some awareness and keep us updated about the steps taken to revive the tourism industry of Goa.

There are hundreds of thousands of people dependent on the tourism industry in Goa, which doesn’t only mean the hospitality sector but also many  businesses  are directly or indirectly dependent on  tourism  and closure of the industry came as just as big a setback to all.  

Vincent Ramos – Strategy to Survive, Thrive and Revive Tourism in Goa 

Vincent Ramos, the Area Director of IHCL, who heads all the properties of Taj Group in Goa, has over a decade of  experience in the hospitality industry having held various positions in different parts of the country and abroad. Vincent becomes the right choice for this to give deep insight into the subject of the post-pandemic revival of the tourism industry in Goa. 

Mr Ramos holds the position of Mentor of GCCI Committee in Tourism Vertical and is also on the management committee of the TTAG and Executive Member of CII. He spoke on the topic of “Strategy to Survive, Thrive and Revive Tourism in Goa”.

Vincent started with saying thatthe survivors of the Covid Pandemic will go down in the history much like survivors of the Spanish Flu, or anything on that scale that has happened in the world. “Unlike  other states in India, the Goa’s survival is mainly dependent on the Mining and Tourism. Mining had been closed down long back and now the pandemic had crushed the tourism sector also. We  were all on the verge of losing our daily bread,” said Mr Ramos adding that “the duration of 1 ½ years is not small. Nobody knew what is going to happen. We had two major challenges in front of us: first how are we  going to survive this pandemic and how we are going to revive the whole thing? And how we are going to thrive in it when we’ve revived it?.”

The first challenge was completed when we survived the first wave, then second wave. “With each wave we survived, we revived ourselves and we thrived every time, and now that we’re hopeful that there won’t be any third or fourth wave, we are just going to thrive with every opportunity we have,” said Ramos. 

“The tourism sector was blamed for the second wave”, said Mr Ramos, “but we argued asking how exactly?. Jharkhand doesn’t have the same levels of tourism nor do the Andaman & Nicobar islands but they too suffered the same impact.” 

According to Mr Ramos, it is the existence of a tourism body in Goa which helped us in reviving  tourism and in absence of it, the state would have still remained closed. “We had a strategy and we worked on it, implemented it and we first survived, then revived and now we will thrive,” he said. There is a whole ecosystem that is dependent on the survival of the tourism industry, and closing it is not the solution. “If third wave comes now then it won’t be due to the tourism in Goa but  because  the general public are not careful or compliant of the masking or social distancing rules. ”

Nilesh Shah – Challenges and Steps to Overcome the Impact of the Pandemic

Nilesh Shah, took over the TTAG in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic and the most challenging period for all the stakeholders of the industry. Nilesh has 28 years of experience in the travel and tourism industry. Today, Nilesh heads the association consisting of  Travel Agents, Tour Operators, Airlines and other allied bodies. The vision and mission of TTAG is to promote healthy tourism in Goa. 

Nilesh started with giving a clear picture of the challenges faced by the industry and its dependents. “The pandemic which started in India in March 2020, impacted hugely on stranded tourists  from various countries,” said Nilesh adding, “and the first challenge was how to send them back to their respective countries? The lockdown did not happen in Goa or India alone: the whole world was shut down”.    

The lockdown that initially started for a few days was extended for weeks and then months and there was nothing that anybody can do about it. People started packing as the situation was getting out of hand. “Banks started giving loans, but even then, how much could that loan help people working in the industry, which has almost 1.40 lakh people directly and 6 lakhs plus people indirectly connected with the industry?”

Covid is here to stay and 18 months in, it may be another  24 months or more. “We have now learned to do  business living with Covid around, and if incase the third wave is coming, we know how to deal with it now,” said Nilesh adding, the new economic term which was derived somewhere in USA was the Hammer and Dance policy. “We should prepare for gradual relaxation over a period of several months to prevent recurrence of cases. This is called the hammer and dance policy to contain the virus spread effectively.”

According to Nilesh, the positivity rate has dropped to 5% since June this year, “As per World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, the government followed every protocol and the vaccination process was also expedited with Goa reaching 100% inoculation goals. We cannot blame the tourists for the third wave cause safety is a concern for everyone regardless of domestic or foreign tourists.” 

“According to me, livelihood is more important and keeping that in mind, the Government should start opening up all the segments of all the verticals and make an announcement that Tourism is open. You will be surprised to see the effect of the announcement made by the Goa government recently to resume  tourism activities in the state. It had resulted in a  complete sellout of hotel rooms across the state, with big conferences, weddings and working from home (in Goa) and this is a positive message  which has helped all of us to survive this pandemic gradually,” he said. 

It was the hoteliers, tour operators and travel agents who were the most affected due to the lockdown and hence it will take some time before they start and go from survival-mode to  revival-mode.  “Industry comprises of many big and small factors which starts from local tourist guides to cab- drivers, musicians to carpenters and sound providers to helpers. There are a  lot of people connected directly or indirectly to the tourism industry and hence positive support from the government will send the message across clearly,” said Nilesh. “It was the first time wherein the stakeholders of industry and government came together, to send that message on World Tourism Day. I think it will go a long way in getting the domestic and international numbers of tourists coming to Goa as they had pre-COVID, very soon,” he added. 

Varun Hegde – Evolution of Tourism Industry in Goa

Varun Hegde, an Electronics & Telecommunication Engineer, born in a very picturesque Goan village called Benaulim, worked for 4 years with the prestigious Tata Consultancy Services. His last job was in Frankfurt, Germany as an on-site coordinator with a multinational bank. Varun quit his job in 2017 and founded Soul Travelling: a leading  offbeat experience- based travel company in India along with Kedar Borkar.

Varun started his speech on the topic of origins of  tourism and how people started travelling 1000s of years back. “Initially people used to travel for  survival. They would travel for food, and shelter making  survival  their goal,” said Varun adding that with  time the ideas of travel kept changing and soon people started travelling for education. “There was one major event that happened in the  13th Century, when one of the ultimate kingdoms, blocked the trading route between Asia and Europe and that changed the concept of travel. We had an explorer from Portugal who discovered the sea route to India and after a decade, Goa was discovered by the Portuguese who ruled it for the next four hundred and fifty years.”

The travel that started with the need to survive eventually turned into acquisition and later it became a luxury as people started traveling after saving enough money so that they can explore new places and experience a new life. “The beginning of 2020 was something different that happened and changed the whole concept of traveling as the world came to a standstill,” said Varun. Just before the pandemic the tourism industry was booming, with various destinations being marketed on social media influencing  travellers and then BOOM!  Covid struck in March 2020 and whole world went under lockdown.           

The pandemic impacted Goa very severely as its major source of income, or we can call it the economy, was dependent on  tourism. Goa went under lockdown for a long time after the first wave of Covid followed by a second wave, leaving the tourism industry completely paralised.

“Post pandemic, the concept of travel is changed: people want to do more experienced-based travel compared to just   destination-based,” said Varun adding, “the current situation is completely different from what people would perceive travel to be 10 years back. Earlier people would make their plans based on a  particular model, for example a sightseeing-model, wherein they would visit popular attractions and be satisfied with their vacation.” “People are looking for more intimate forms of travel:  like experiencing  the local culture. . And this is not only the experience part of it, but destinations as a whole are being marketed because of the experiences they can  provide,” said Varun. Varun also feels that  social media has had a great impact on the travel plans of  people. “Now people make their travel plans looking at  social media trends and  they follow  influencers to see what they do and make their plans accordingly,” he added.    

The new model took better shape during the last one year as post-covid conditions, people started looking for something more intimate rather than regular holidays and sight-seeing. “Goa as a whole needs to be marketed as destination with a story. We have hotels, culinary experiences and we welcome people to come and experience different things,” said Varun adding, “it may be casinos, beaches or the hinterland, or  it can be any form of tourism, but the soul of it should be the story. “One of the greatest examples of storytelling is the movie “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobaara” where they visit  Spain  resulting in mass-tourism in to  Spain in search of similar experiences. Hence we need to imbibe that story within the Goa brand.”

Before ending his talk Varun touched the subject of transportation which is very essential part of the tourism industry. “I would leave the actual ideas to the actual experts in these particular industries. But that is how I see that tourism will evolve in future and post-pandemic and we have a very good opportunity to make sure that works. So, everyone spoke up for  tourism over the last 1 ½  years and I just feel this is just the beginning of a new way of tourism where people will be more happier with the destination they choose,” he said.  

Photo by Aakash Ghadge on Unsplash 

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