Drugs, prostitution and Goa’s battle to revive tourism

While there is realisation that Goa needs to look beyond the ‘sun, sand and sea’, the tourism industry is also becoming vocal about drugs, prostitution rackets and illegal massage parlours

Representative (Getty Images)
Representative (Getty Images)

Aditya Anand

Hit by a dwindling revenue from tourism—estimated variously between Rs 2,000- 7,000 crore—over the past two years, Goa is making renewed efforts to reinvent itself as a tourist destination. The state had earlier lost revenue it earned from iron ore mining. Job losses caused by the pandemic are slated to be between 35 per cent and 58 per cent in the tourism industry in the state.

A new international airport and a new cable bridge across the river Zuari with a viewing gallery on top will facilitate the process, the state government hopes. In an effort to bring the tourists back, Goa Tourism is organising international roadshows in western Europe, including in Paris, Zurich, Frankfurt and Vienna, with concerts and souvenirs branding the state’s tourist attractions.

But while there is realisation that the state needs to look beyond the ‘sun, sand and sea’, casinos on the Mandovi, nightclubs and restaurants, the industry is also becoming vocal about drugs, prostitution rackets and illegal massage parlours which have given the state a bad name.

Newspapers as recently as August 17 reported the death of a student from Puducherry due to a drug overdose. While such reports are becoming more frequent, the industry was also shaken by Hyderabad Police booking 174 people, several of them well-known owners of nightclubs and party hotspots, for their involvement in trafficking of narcotics. A Goan youth reported missing by his family was found to be in police custody in the same case.

Not everyone is convinced that international roadshows can salvage the situation. This is not the first time Goa will be hosting these roadshows, points out Michael Lobo, former leader of the Opposition in the assembly. Describing them as ‘junkets’, Lobo says that in the absence of audits and cost-benefit analyses, the returns from such exercises are not quite certain.

Mushroom growth of illegal massage parlours has also caused concern. While several of them have been shut down in recent months, the prostitution rackets in the garb of these parlours continue to flourish. Lobo also complains that only small drug peddlers are held by the police and not the big sharks of the trade.

Former Siolim MLA Vinoda Paliencar alleges that a former minister was patronising the illegal drugs trade in Siolim and the coastal belt in North Goa. “I wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the menace in this coastal belt,” he says but concedes that there was no action taken.

Former Goa DGP I.G. Shukla claims that while action against the drug trade was a top priority for him and his predecessors, drug cartels operate “intelligently”, necessitating collaborative efforts of multiple agencies. Implicit in his statement was the admission that the cartels were a step ahead of the police, which has resource constraints.

Goa is working to make TourismTech a part of its future attraction, along with the homegrown Gin industry which has grown exponentially in recent years. The Forum for Incubation, Innovation, Research, and Entrepreneurship (FiiRE) is working to incorporate and integrate technology into the tourism value chain in a bid to revive the sector.

Says D.S. Prashant, CEO, FiiRE, “Innovative solutions that address wider global concerns will hopefully be game changers in Goa, where tourism has been the mainstay. Sustainable solutions, mobility, lifestyle that will appeal to future travelers, frictionless payment solutions, and enhancing individual travel experiences will have to be prioritised."

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