Goa finds taming taxi operators tough as tourists leave without disembarking

Taxis in Goa are holding tourism to ransom, complain many and the ugly standoff at Mormugao Port is being cited as proof

Getty Images
Getty Images

Aditya Anand

A cruise ship with foreign tourists, 80 of them Americans, was forced to leave Mormugao Port last week when Goa’s taxi operators refused to allow the tourists to disembark and board the coaches waiting to take them for an excursion on the shore. The ugly standoff continues since December 15 between the taxi operators and the government.

The American cruise operator Ocean Odyssey, it was reported, had lodged a formal protest and demanded compensation. It reportedly held out the threat of never returning to Goa in future. The complaint prompted Goa Police to launch an investigation. A First Information Report (FIR) has been filed at the Mormugao Police Station, and eight members of the local taxi union were arrested.

The standoff could not have come at a worse moment for Goa Tourism. At the peak holiday season when tourists from colder climes flock to Goa for sunshine and sand, and when the Goa government has been trying to promote the destination abroad aggressively, the spat was embarrassing. The failure to sort out the issue quickly enough also indicated the chinks in the system.

Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) claimed that taxi operators catering to tourists aren't interested in negotiating fair fares. “Since they are not a point-to-point service, they can only have fair pricing if the rates are set in advance and fed into a digital meter. Many stakeholders, including the government, have had to go to court to get permission to install digital taxi meters. Nonetheless, it appears that these directives were disregarded and that government regulations were flouted without inviting consequence,” an official of the transport department said.

Stakeholders are also watching with interest as Goa is set to have Manohar International Airport, Mopa, the state’s second airport after Dabolim, become operational next month.

“Flights will begin from January 5 but there are concerns about the cabs since the taxi lobby has refused to tow the government line of operating through an app.  Mopa is in North Goa and tourists wishing for a seamless drive to their place of choice might not find it as smooth an exercise as they would expect,” the transport official apprehended.

Tour operator Le Passage to India manager Francis Vaz said that negotiations with taxi unions broke down despite police intervention and that his company was responsible for the safety of more than a hundred American tourists. Deepak Lotlikar, another tour operator, explained that all these tourist arrivals are planned a year in advance.

"We send information to the cruise liner which encourages them to come to Goa. Taxi drivers frequently complain that we are stealing their business. A client who has booked a trip or excursion with the tour operator will never use a taxi. As tour operators, we provide a full tour package. This includes language-speaking guides, desired cuisine and theme-based tours, which tourist taxis cannot provide,” he explained.

In an editorial on the issue on December 24, titled "Look inside to find the killers of Goa’s tourism, not outside," a popular English newspaper published from Goa, Herald said, “The killers of Goa’s tourism are not outside. They are right inside, and their power and influence have been growing steadily. It is the greed of these inside killers of tourism with their powerful linkages with the system and the establishment, that has killed Goa’s tourism, almost beyond redemption.”

In the meantime, Goa is once again bustling with activity on the eve of Christmas and the New Year. Hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions are keen to put the past two dismal years behind them.

December's tourist footfalls have already topped pre-COVID levels, with Dabolim Airport reporting more than 28,600 arrivals between December 15-19, higher than the daily average of 26,400 arrivals during the same period in 2019.

The only difference, stakeholders point out, is that domestic tourists this year will far exceed foreign guests who are largely restricted to charter flights from places like Moscow. 


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