Nilesh Shah |President, Travel and Tourism Association of Goa
Business Goa catches up with Nilesh Shah, who has been elected as President of the Travel and Tourism Associationof Goa for a second term and finds out about his plans for ‘Brand Goa’
TTAG is one of the oldest travel and tourism body in Goa which started in 1977. Initially, it started out as a travelling and tourism club and later when charters started coming up and tourism began increasing, somewhere in 1996-97, it became an association. The main objective is to resolve challenges faced by the industry, to have a link between the government and industry and overall keep a check on whether the industry is going in the right direction; with a proper positioning in the domestic and international market.
Elaborate on your experience in the tourism sector over the years.
As an entrepreneur I have been in the tourism business for 30 years. I have seen the rise of domestic carriers in India. In 1991, I entered the business which was a time where domestic airlines had just begun. The boom in the charter business began post 90s. It has been quite a good experience in the sense that I have seen the industry grow by leaps and bounds every year. A number of people have entered the industry and are flourishing. Overall, Goa is now the most preferred party destination in the country. So far, it has been an amazing journey to be a part of this industry and see it grow and flourish over the years.
What is your primary focus for TTAG during your second term as President?
When I took over the main focus was on restarting and rebooting the industry. I took over when the industry was closed somewhere in May 2020 and the first wave of covid was at its peak. Once things subsided, unlocking was a key area to focus on and remove the hurdles in the way of Ease of Doing Business. I would like to highlight a few things here. With the co-operation of the members, the government and of course, the bureaucracy we are able to do better on EoDB.
We now have a five years tourism license, for the tourism industry; fire and excise licence for those in this industry. There used to be many hurdles while applying for excise licence which have been taken care of. Secondly, when Goa opened up, the industry followed all the protocols laid down by the government. This helped the industry in a big way. Now in my second term, the main focus is to continue keeping track on the Ease of Doing Business, as far as the tourism industry is concerned. We have something for everyone in Goa. The rebranding of Goa’s image needs to be looked into seriously. As far as events and various other programs are concerned, there are a lot of hurdles in Goa which we need to streamline. All of these permissions and licenses needs to be available in one place and we are working continuously with the Government in this regard. Also, there are all kinds of tourists coming into the State. Much as we have lost a few markets, it is usually the smaller hotels that depends on charters and the domestic crowds as well. We have to make a pitch to attract the German, Polish, and Finnish crowd to Goa. The UK market is very keen to come to Goa, but the hurdles they face is on the e-visas. Our request to the Ministry of External Affairs will be to grant e-visas for tourists coming to Goa from the UK. We want to work with the Government for participating in different marts be they domestic or international, which attracts tourists into Goa. Unless we market ourselves properly we will not get the right kind of crowd. Our focus for the next two years will be to see that Goa regains its international market, regain markets we have lost and attract newer markets.
Who forms a part of your team and what strengths do they bring to the table?
We have the Director of Tourism, the Managing Director of Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC), and the Principal of Institute of Hotel Management (IHM) who forms part of our team and they bring in their years of experience with them. We can address the challenges that we face on a daily basis through them when we assemble for our monthly meetings. We have one vice president for North Goa, Jack Sukhija and Guitry Velho as our vice president for South Goa, making it easier for these two to address issues faced by the two districts of the state. In addition to these two, we have a secretary, Aakash Madgavkar and treasurer, Shekhar Divadkar. When we nominate members we see that people from different industry verticals are a part of our board which helps to resolve the challenges faced by each vertical of the industry. We also have Ernest Dias who is a COO of Sita and TCI, which is the largest inbound charter operator in Goa. We have Vincent Ramos, Area Director of IHCL Goa, Aakash Madgavkar who represents water sports activities, Francisco Branganza our Past President, a lawyer and entrepreneur, owning three and five star hotels in the State, Rajesh Salgaonkar and Sairaj Dhond both of whom represent smaller boutique hotels. In short, we have all the segments of the industry on our board which helps in having proper dynamics within the TTAG body.
After three covid waves what is your outlook for the tourism industry?
Domestic tourism has grown and many five start hotels have recorded big profits. The casino business is doing very well, water sports has picked up, but there are plenty of matters that needs to be streamlined. Adventure tourism is down due to lack of numbers and now the monsoons are around the corner. As regards international tourists, scheduled flights are allowed to come in the State. We have direct flights coming in from Qatar and Oman which has opened up new avenues for us. A few groups from Portugal have come in a few weeks backs and I feel Goa is getting back on track of attracting foreign tourists. Overall I feel the coming season will be excellent as far as international tourism is concerned while we will continue to focus on domestic tourists. I feel as long as we are able to offer the right value and overcome a few hurdles, especially the issue of transport, we can go a long way into getting back the vibrancy in the industry and attract the right kind of crowd into Goa.
How is TTAG’s relation and association with the GTDC and how would you like to build bridges with them?
Over the last 30 years, the President of the TTAG has been on board of the GTDC. There are six official directors in the GTDC board and we have a cordial relationship. Our focus area is that the government should be not in the business of doing business. GTDC has many resorts which were running losses. Now they are on the verge of privatisation; a move that we wholeheartedly support. They are trying to get into a Public Private Partnership (PPP) for their hotels in Goa which will bring in better revenues, better service get international brands into the State. GTDC is also looking into getting in new tourism activities like hot air balloons, hop on hop off buses and trying to encourage entrepreneurs to finds new ways of attracting tourists. I feel the focus of the GTDC should be to encourage more private players, especially those coming up with adventure sports like bungee jumping. Our relationship with GTDC is very cordial and we try to work together wherever possible to promote Brand Goa.
If there is one common problem that locals and tourists share, it is that of the taxis. How do you plan on enforcing discipline among the taxi drivers and operators?
It is high time that this issue of taxi operators is resolved. If we want tourists to become the brand ambassador of Goa, we have to ensure that their stay here is as comfortable as possible. TTAG has tried its best by filing a petition in the court for the implementation of meters. The court has agreed with our stand and have made meters compulsory for every taxi; as also installing a GPS machine. Much as meters have been fixed they are yet to be operational. The government has to be firm in their stand when dealing with the taxi drivers. We have to move with the times and digitisation is the way forward. We have Ola and Uber operating all over India and it is about time we bring in these operators. When we talk about taxi issues we have to understand it is not only the problem of the tourists but also that of the locals. If we have a proper transport system in place the locals too can avail of it and can use taxis for their day to day travels which will reduce pollution and traffic. It will be easier for people to travel at night especially those who do not have a vehicle of their own.
There has to be competition in this business, the way of carrying on the taxi business should be changed, and there has to be a change in the mindset of the people. The government has to be very firm when dealing with this matter and our politicians have to understand that they cannot have their way all the time. The locals will benefit from the services of operators like Ola and Uber.
Besides looking at the benefits of the players in the industry, they also have to see how the locals benefit. Taxi drivers should have a proper system in place and be more reasonable without overcharging and putting pressure on the customer.
The narrative that Goa’s tourism is sinful (casino) is peddled openly by the stakeholders. How do you see this playing on the sheen of Brand Goa in the long run?
Casinos are one of the verticals of the tourism industry whether we like it or no. Secondly, casinos brings in revenue which the government requires almost to a tune of 450 to 500 crores in the form of fixed revenue and around 400 crores in the form of GST. In addition to this, they employ almost 20 to 25 thousand people. Also, locals have spare flats and houses which they have given on rent to these casino companies to house their staff. The economy has evolved around the casinos. We do require checks and balances wherein the locals are not allowed entry to the casinos. The government should look into any illegalities taking place on these casinos and keep a lookout for any areas that comes under their power. If the government does their job properly, this industry can help generate revenue to the government and it will help the economy by creating employment opportunities be it for the taxi drivers, hoteliers, retailers, bike operators, and suppliers – most of whom are locals.
What initiatives are your members, the stakeholders of the tourism business, been taking to bring in a change that TTAG is hoping for?
When we were re-opening up the industry, we were very clear on following the covid norms which were required to be followed as the safety of not only the tourist was important to us, but that of our locals working in various capacities as well. As far as water sports are concerned the safety angle has to be looked into with a very critical eye. Also we have to market Goa as a family destination where every type of tourist is welcome. We are trying to focus on making Goa safer especially now that we have to live with covid. We have learnt to run our business around covid given that there will be more waves of this virus. Secondly, there are a lot of new entrepreneurs in the market with different concepts of experiential tourism which is a new term for us. Nowadays people don’t only want to visit Goa, but they want to experience Goa. Heritage walks have taken centre stage in Goa and everyone wants to experience the state in its glory.
We, as part of the TTAG, have to attract tourists to Goa and this is one aspect which will add to our uniqueness. The new services which our Government is trying to introduce, has to be monitored closely because if it’s not marketed properly, it will not succeed. Ultimately we want repeat quality tourists coming in