Girl Gone Goa

Travel, sex, magic, and cycling in an Indian state

Blame the tourists? January 30, 2009

Filed under: Travel — UR @ 5:42 pm
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Three types of tourists; three solutions

Returning Goan, disaffected hippie, or cocooning package tourist?

Returning Goan, disaffected hippie, or cocooning package tourist?

Living in Goa as a first-timer, long-stay visitor and person of Goan origin, I’ve struggled to understand culture in Goa so a colleague from my Goa Writers group passed on a book by Robert S. Newman.

I’ve excerpted a section that describes tourism. After that, I discuss how Western tourist’s expectations could actually improve the situation. I finish off with 3 simple suggestions for change.

First, the excerpt:

Three types of visitors

“Goa has been a tourist destination for many years, but only recently has it begun to suffer from mass tourism, the sure destroyer. Over the years there have essentially been three types of visitors to Goa. First, there were the Goans returning home on leave from their far-flung diaspora – reaching floodtide when the Bombay shops and offices let out for the holidays. This type of tourist brought new ideas and goods into Goan society, but was not disruptive.

“A few years after Liberation, Goa was discovered by disaffected, adventurous Western youth, loosely termed ‘hippies’. Their nudism, drugs, and rock music shocked Goan sensibilities. Nevertheless, while the appearance of some seaside villages changed, the local people remained in control of the tourist trade, and socio-economic structures were not altered drastically.

“It is the third type of tourism which has brought about severe economic, social, and cultural dislocation. This is the more recent mass tourism by well-to-do individuals or groups who want little or nothing to do with Goan life – visitors cocooned in luxury hotels built on former village land, staffed by former fishermen, toddy-tappers, and farmers, and supplied by the ‘more reliable’ sources outside Goa …It seems almost inevitable that the burgeoning tourist ‘infrastructure’ will overwhelm and destroy the very place the tourists are coming to see.” [Pages 32-33]f Umbrellas, Goddesses and Dreams – essays on Goan culture and society. Robert S. Newman. 2001. Other India Press, Mapusa (Goa, India).

How tourists could actually help

As mentioned in an earlier post, keep in mind that 20 to 30 percent of visitors to Goa are “Westerners” (foreigners) and the rest come to Goa from elsewhere in India. In my opinion, that’s good news and bad news.

The good news is, Western package tourists – especially those from North America, Britain and Europe – are a fickle lot, and seem to climb over each other in their search for a packaged, authentic vacation experience. While they expect English menus, beans on toast and A/C comfort; they also want sustainable eco-tours, locally-sourced menus, holistic health spas, and a garbage-free environment.

In their home countries they are fairly conscientious about not only throwing their garbage in a bin, but sorting out the paper and recyclables and disposing of them accordingly. At home, many of them forgo bottled water to drink from the tap (with a filter, if necessary). And I’m guessing they don’t waste water by washing their linens every morning. It’s a good habit, but one they must break to holiday in Goa.

Villagers take matters into their own hands (Moira, Goa)

Villagers take matters into their own hands (Moira, Goa)

Imagine their disorientation when they arrive and – like many package tour destinations- discover that trash bins are practically non-existant (just throw it on the ground, a shopkeeper may tell them), recycling is unheard of, both in their hotels and outside (especially for all those water bottles), drinking water must be bought (even though many tourist restaurants have water filters and will refill an empty one), and that sheets are dragged off their beds whether they want it or not.

For better or worse, foreigners seek local food, tour and ayurvedic medicine providers. “Better” because the people who offer these services are generally new or established Goans and their families – not corporate managers who pass the buck to the multi-national foreign owners. Unlike other sun destinations I’ve visited (the 35 kilometres of Las Vegas-like hotels in Mexico’s Cancun come to mind), the hotels and restaurants on Goa’s beaches are innumberable but mostly small-scale and family-run.

“Worse” because for the most part, the quality of that local room, tour, food and health product is unreliable and probably unregulated. And whose fault is that – the tourist’s? Local businesses probably don’t filter their drinking water (forcing each and every guest to buy it bottled), don’t provide garbage and recycling (for all the water bottles!), and don’t ask guests if they’d be willing to have their sheets washed every other day.

As I wrote earlier, hotelier Serafino Cota (The Advocate and the Allergy)  has ably demonstrated his 30-room hotel in southern Goa, not only is it possible to operate a no-waste home for tourists, but profitable too – he actually receives money from a Margao (Goa) waste-collector for all the plastic, glass, metal and paper they pick up from his property! That’s a Goan collection business supported by the Goan government, serving a Goan hotel.

The bad news? Some Indian tourists haven’t noticed that there’s anything wrong. In Goa as in other places, Indian visitors throw their garbage on the ground without even looking for a garbage bin – someone will deal with it, sometime. They buy bottled water like the foreigners. They take whatever sheet-changing and kowtowing hotel staff will offer them, because they don’t get that at home (unless they have servants who deal with it, somehow). And as I said, Indians comprise the majority of Goan visitors.

3 easy, obvious solutions

I read in a local newspaper recently that Candolim and Calangute beach associations (panchayats) are pleased with how effectively their hired cleaners comb the beach every evening to keep the sand tidy of garbage for the next day’s visitors. But as one tourist from England so succinctly put it, “Why don’t they just put a dustbin at every shack so we have somewhere to throw it?”

In the name of forward-thinking journalsim (or blogging, in this case), I offer three ways to get started, if the Goan tourism stakeholders are willing:

1. Post signs

Just as every establishment has No Smoking signs posted on their walls, have hotels and resturants post a sign advising visitors that Safe Filtered Water is available. Refill plastic water bottles for 5 rupees, or for free with a minimum purchase. Establish Water Filter stations. This is not radical stuff – reputable businesses already have the equipment, they just need to spread the word. Build water-filtering business and reduce water bottle buying.

3. Install bins

If, as I wrote in an earlier entry, “labour is cheaper than plastic“,  put the beach cleaners to better use. Buy barrel-sized garbage bins (or better yet, reappropriate old barrels!), stake them securely along the beach and around the village, and have the cleaners empty them frequently. Create a sorting station and have the cleaners separate the waste from the recyclables.

Cota's collection Breezer bottles

Cota's collection Breezer bottles

3. Sort waste

There’s money to be made from waste glass, plastic, paper and metal. Collect enough of it, and a number of Margao scrap dealers will buy it from you. Says Cota, you don’t need a lot of space to do it, either. Hotels can repurpose a few parking spaces or backlot; and beach shacks can create a seasonal central collection site and have your staff sort waste when business is slow. Serafino Cota says anyone who’s interested can contact him through his Dona Sa Maria website , or by phone: (0832) 2745290 or 2745673.


9 Responses to “Blame the tourists?”

  1. janet niichel Says:

    Hi We have been in Goa at Arunbol beach for 6 weeks and I think what you say is right but the biggest problem with garbage is the burning of it at all times of day and when I visited Mapusa it was burning all day on the hill out side town, What to do with the garbage burn it recycle it and don’t use plastic bottles. We will be back in Arumbal Feb 14th for a week maybe we will see you? Then on the REAL india again. Janet Niichel

  2. Aloysius D'Souza Says:

    Congrats Ulrike,

    You are following in the footsteps of your cousin, Deepika, — Frederick Noronha had Christened her “Garbage Missy” when she went about Goa trying to get hotels and villages to control all their plastic waste — Consequently there were “NO PLASTIC” drives throughout Goa and shops stopped giving you plastic carry bags

    Cheers keep up the good work

  3. John Eric Says:

    I agree with Aloysious.You have explored ,seen and fathomed Goa in a short time better than most of us “sons of the soil”, and are doing yeoman service to its people .Its a pity you wont be permitted to attend the Gramsabha meeting Sunday 1st Feb at Salvador do Mundo Panchayat. These bodies were Gandhis vision for bottom up socio economic palnning. Government formed these bodies, but are not giving them power/ want to control them to legitimise their nefarious deeds.Only registered voters may attend. I was summarily removed from the voters list and got back on it after a prolonged procedures ! (Reason, believe it or not,I was not at my residence when the checker called! )I am attempting to haul the authorities up for not recording in the Minutes, my address to the last Gramsabha meeting on an Agenda point of mine “Garbage” and my solutions starting at grassroots, namely own house,then surroundings, neighbours, Housing Societies etc.Make rules, fine those not complying, caught dumping garbage and so on. Action taken after two months.NIL. They only act if there is money in it for them, without having to work for it.
    Right now we are fighting a loosing battle against big money, powerful builders , mafias, corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who have learnt how to milk the system , secure vote banks , and take advantage of the peaceful and trusting goans, who it apperas will have to take to the streets, use force/get violent in order to be heard! We are trying to use every peaceful,legal means including all media . You have come here at the right time in Goas History. May the force be with you…..JEG

  4. Aniruddha Sen Gupta Says:

    I find the point of this blog entry a little confusing. You begin with as macro a view as that of the “clash of cultures”. You go on to present extracts from Robert Newman which, in my opinion, are not so much about the clash of cultures as about issues of development and the role of tourism within those concerns. And finally you convert the whole issue into one of garbage disposal. It might help if you add on a short leader which helps a reader understand your thought process in making these jumps.

    I’m not debating your conclusions and suggestions (though there is ample scope for that debate as well), merely articulating my feeling that this entry should in fact have been two or more separate pieces with different points of focus.

  5. […] magazine stories that I wrote for local publications including a profile of Ulrike Rodrigues, an opinion piece on tourism and garbage , a discussion of NRI Commission’s “Know Goa” program, and an introduction to the […]

  6. greg b Says:

    That bottled water thing is a curse, one that afflicts us even here in North-American-tourist-mecca Tofino. Plastic bags are not far behind, though there are some initiatives in motion to address those.
    You’d think if there was money to be made it would be a no-brainer, but even here it is left to the marginalized to collect water bottles and pop cans from the trash bins.
    Basically, people act through habit and without thought most of the time — this is not a criticism but an observation of how the human mind works. To change habitual behaviour, two things seem mandatory: self-interest and constant reminding, both of which serve to promote conscious action.
    Keep reminding ’em, Ulrike.

  7. Atul Chatterjee Says:

    Nice reading your worries.
    I am an Indian fairly well traveled within the country and without on very low budgets. I spend a fair amount of time in the Himalayas where I depend upon spring water most of the time.
    In Rishkesh no one in their right senses drinks Ganga (Ganjes) water.
    In Delhi and other cities water usually arrives in large 20 litre bottles for those who can afford it.
    For an Indian buying bottled water is normal even in India. They just do the same in Goa. So your comment is misplaced.

    I was recently in Goa after a visit in 1965. I vividly recall the wells and drinking lots of cononut water and the fruit of toddy. Nothing else, I was just a kid.
    This time around a few well I saw were dry and borewells replaced them. However the water is sweet and very drinkable. (Anjuna)

    There is one avenue that none of you seem to be seeing. Administrative action. In Delhi you dare not smoke a cigarette in the Connaught Place area (Rajiv Chowk). There is a fine of INR 500 which is levied on the spot and is being done.

    First fine communities for not taking care of the environment. Fine the locals. The district collector (an Indian adminstrative creation) has the authority to do so even unilaterally. Take that route. After all 450 years of Portuguese rule has obviously failed to civilise the indians of goa and they are reverting to the behavior of their country cousins.

    Sadly I hardly got to drink any tender coconut water. Coke has replaced coconut. Good for the MNCs. An Aussie Jason from Perth was surprised that it was available for Rs 25 at a few locations. He said he wouldnt have minded buying it for double the price. But sorry they were all dangling from the tree tops. Evidently getting people to shinny up the trees is not easy.

    I don’t see good coming to Gods own Country, there is too much of blaming Indians, Russians, Israelis, hippies and others.

    Anyway happy cycling. I had a job in which I had to cycle uphill twenty five minutes, the second leg cycle cost $4 and did not have gears. On the way back I freewheeled. You can add this to your list of requirements for a job.

    Ask for some pedestrian and cycle only zones in towns.


  8. RICARDO Says:

    I agree about the mass tourism ruining goa!!!…first of all, there are so many beach resorts blocking off public access to the beaches, just so they can cater towards outsiders… dona paula, cidade goa, marriot, hyatt and many more… why should any beach be blocked off to the public, we are goans right, we have the right to walk on any beach we want with out facing any hard ships…
    secondly what gives the russians, the right to buy a beach off, and stop goans from entering…huh??
    Nothing good came out of the russians entering goa, all they did was bring their people and drug trafficing to our peacefull land.
    Recently i have also noticed that there are so many new contructions comming all over the place, and so many fields and dissappeared. why take away the natural beauty of goa, and replace them with concrete structures

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