By Armando Gonsalves

Another tourism season is seeing the possibility of hitting rock bottom, with the collapse of Thomas Cook. While this might sound catastrophic to many in the tourism industry, this is an opportunity of doing something completely different, and blazing new trails. Goa has long been an excellent place for food right from the time of our ancestors. But lately, with the massive influx of different food influences from across the world, it has given us the chance to position Goa as the Food Capital of the East. We have always been a great country for trade calling us as the “Rome of the East”. Our very ability to touch the right nerve when it comes to food makes it easy for a state like Goa a hotspot for food. With this agenda on hand, we can garner top-quality tourism arrivals from across the world.

For a long time now, Goa has flattered to deceive when it comes to attracting the world’s best into our beautiful land. Lack of leadership at the political level has been the bane, and the absolute lack of vision in the tourism sector has brought the industry to its knees. Calangute once known as the Queen of Beaches, can safely be called an ugly peasant woman, not to insult the beauty of a peasant girl in any case. But unfortunately, the beauty of our land has taken a beating, and we need to pull up our socks fast, or else we’ll be in the danger of losing everything.

Since the industry seems to be in a state of a free fall, something will have to be done to arrest the disaster, and where else than Panjim, to try and make up for this mess? There has to be a paradigm shift in thinking if we are to succeed in this. Beautiful locations such as the Fontainhas Latin Quarter, the heritage lanes of Campal, the beautiful Mandovi Waterfront and the commercial lanes of 18th June Road are all great places for welcoming a Food Revolution that everyone would celebrate with pomp and gaiety. In any case, there are myriad of food styles from across the world that dominates the food offerings in this state. Why don’t we brand all that and target discerning audiences from around the globe to come and enjoy a wide range of global cuisines?

Goa has always been known through history, as a great place for art, culture, food, heritage, music and the other subtler things in life. Sadly, all these things are getting spoiled, and this can be seen in the form of casinos, low cost tourism, dirtied beaches and loud music. And has this really helped the Goan cause? Certainly not!!! Each passing year, news headlines are filled with stories of how things are going from back to worse, and how there is an urgent need to lift this whole story from the quagmire of failed promises and badly outlined plans.

While bringing in food majors from across the world, it will surely add to the galore. This will also be an opportunity to bring in the game changers of Goa into the spotlight – like the young Goan women who have made a mark for themselves, bakers who can lift their game into creating world-class products like the traditional breads, cakes and pastries and of course, the well-known Chefs such as Chef Avinash Martins, Food designer Prahlad Sukhtankar and the likes. A renowned Institute of Hotel Management, with deep roots here, can be included to work  towards making this dream come true. Food is always an attraction anywhere in the world when it comes to tourism. Places such as Porto and Lisbon in Portugal, have proved beyond doubt, that they can be main attractions along with the other things just as Goa is known for music, art and culture.

World-famous streets such as Oxford Street in Central London are narrower than even the 18th June Road but are managed well. Why do we need large parking areas? We need broader footpaths so that people can be accommodated for various activities such as street plays, magic shows, musical events, food and drink and the like. When people gather together for these activities, they will eventually spend money while enjoying the beauty and the heritage of a beautiful city like Panjim.

In all this, Governmental support is vital. It is important that local culture, art and music  accompany this process. But even more important than this, is the political will that is needed to support genuine entrepreneurs who via tax holidays, freeing of Government assets such as the Mandovi water front or the streets of 18th June Road, a more balanced approach where the local Goan Chefs and Cooks are supported, especially when you consider that so many of our boys & girls in this trade are powering restaurants and kitchens across the world in cruise liners as well as top eating houses across the globe.

We need a paradigm shift in thought, are we ready to bite the bullet at least now, when tourism arrivals are destined to crash due to various reasons? Are we prepared to bring in completely new air into Panjim and convert it into a smart city that offers world-class facilities to the discerning traveller? Only time will tell, but yes, it is up to each and everyone of us, to make this happen.

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