North Goa Coast Strives to Bear Its Tourist Burden

By Frederick Noronha

GOA, India, April 27, 2004 (ENS) - For the two million visitors who land on its shores each year, India's beach tourism capital of Goa is just a good holiday. Goa is a former Portuguese colony, a small region of 3,700 square kilometers with a population of just 1.4 million. But scientific studies now show that the impact of mass tourism is pressuring North Goa, where tourism first took root in the 1960s with disaffected Western youth fleeing the materialism of their own societies.

North Goa's most scenic spot is being squeezed of its water resources, choked by sewage, swamped by humans. Its skyline and vegetation are undergoing a drastic change, say a series of recently published studies on the subject. Unless something is done fast, the price to be paid could be enormous.

The North Goa district is a major tourist destination and a "hub of a variety of tourism-related activities" says a team of scientists from the Goa based National Institute of Oceanography. Their paper is presented in the new book "Coastal Tourism, Environment, and Sustainable Local Development" published by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), formerly Tata Energy Resarch Institute.


Calangue Beach, a glimpse of what draws tourists to North Goa (Photo credit unknown)
The researchers point out that over 500,000 tourists visit the beaches and other coastal places of this district each year. Currently, tourism officials estimated a total of two million tourists visit the province of Goa each year, of which nearly a 250,000 are foreigners.

Goa's tourism belt is getting overcrowded. Candolim, a former fishing village now turned tourist destination immediately south of the overbuilt and once world famous Calangute beach, has a density of 1,021 persons per kilometer, as compared to Bardez Taluka's 624 persons per kilometer.

Male in-migration into the tourism areas of Goa has reversed the earlier favorable-to-women sex ratio here. Calangute, notes another essay here, was the first village to be "visited by tourism" which came in the shape of hippies in the 1960s. It went on to soon gain international recognition."

Tourism is highly seasonal in Goa, and another tourist season has just ended, leaving many Goa residents concerned about their resources. Since the tourist concentration in the occurs non-monsoon months of October to March, this causes some problems of its own. Goa has to scale up its infrastructure to be able to meet the demands of the peak season. So, facilities are underutilized in off-season, and the tourist population outnumbers the local host pouplation in season, placing additional stress on coastal resources.

Farmers in villages around coastal areas of North Goa which have stakes in tourism have not been cultivating their agricultural land. Researchers have found that as many as 57 percent of households in Assagao and 50 percent in Arpora and Marra have left their lands to lie without tending them.

Estimates also show that some 65 percent of rent-backs are owned by non-resident Goans, 20-25 percent by Goans from India's cities, and 10-15 percent by natives residing in Goa.

Says this study, "Qualitative research indicates a feeling among local people, despite their involvement, that the gains from tourism are not substantial. There is a growing feeling that large hotels and external groups are cornering the economic benefits, while the local population has to bear the social and environmental burden."

Locals have been fighting to prevent major hotel projects, such as the proposed Japanese village at Morjim, and also fighting hotel extension programs. At the same time locals view migrant groups with distrust, as they feel that their lack of a stake in the land within the tourist village.

In the Baga-Nerul watershed on the North Goa coast, it was found that sewage is rarely treated. In 99 percent of low-budget, 100 percent of middle-budget, 89 percent of high-budget, and 33 percent of luxury hotels, the sewage is being disposed of in soak-pits or tanks. Only 11 percent of high-budget and 67 percent of luxury hotels are able to treat their sewage in treatment plants.

The study has found that the potential of profits from tourism are being siphoned off by neighboring states. "Since Goa depends on Karnataka and Maharashtra for its food products," the authors write, "it is evident that there is a high leakage of the potential income that could have been generated, were local sources to supply food to the tourism industry."


Nizmar Resort close to North Goa's Calangute Beach (Photo courtesy Nizmar Resort)
Water resources too are stretched by the influx of tourists. Low budget hotels need 573 of liters of water per room per day. Luxury hotels, by contrast, need 1,335 liters per room per day, as they have huge landscaped areas, swimming pools, and up to three restaurants.

Say researchers TG Jagtap, K Desai and R Rodrigues, "The beaches of Goa were reported to be very clean with dense vegetation and magnificient dunes three decades ago. Overexploitation of the beaches for tourism related activities has severely degraded the sand dune habitats."

Warns another study from this TERI collection, "It is estimated that the groundwater in coastal Bardez [Taluka] is stressed due to tourism related activities. Groundwater quality has deteriorated due to indiscriminated disposal of human generated waste, including disposal from septic tanks and cesspools. The bacterial and nitrate concentrations are quite abnormal in almost all the coastal stretches of Bardez Taluka."

On the positive side, tourism has enabled some the people to "reduce their dependency on activities such as fishing and agriculture." Women were also found to have a "high involvement" as owners and managers in the low budget hotels and guest houses. This suggests that the tourism trade can support the "evolution of women as entrepreneurs."

N Lourenco and R Jorge of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Portugal say tourism causes these problems worldwide. Land is abandoned for speculation, as rural land prices rise. Traditional systems of cultivation are converted, and agriculture becomes a part-time activity by workers who have shifted to the service sector.

In Goa, this has already happened.

KS Nairy, S Kazi and M Abraham of TERI together with R Jorge of the Universidade Nova de Lisboa have found that there are indicators to predict which sections of the population will be most likely to engage in tourist businesses.

They suggest the "smokeless industry" is more attractive to those with houses close to the sea. Tourism also attracts the young "given that tourism is a glamor activity," those with low levels of education and drop-outs.

Others likely to become involved are people who own agricultural land in watersheds but do not cultivate it; those from the fishing community, as it provides them a social ladder for moving up; and those who belong to the low-income bracket, as "tourism is associated with easy money."

From a lot of statistics and some academic jargon, the story of what is going wrong on the Goa coast emerges.