Features

Business in Goa: beachside business

1 May 2016 by Neha Gupta Kapoor
India, Goa, Palolem beach

The state is one amongst eight others to enjoy a coastal position in India; yet, it attracts the largest number of tourists to its beaches. “Besides its beauty, Goa’s beaches are both clean and safe. This gives it an advantage over others in the country,” says Sanjeev Dessai, Director, Goa Tourism. What he means is that this is the only Indian shoreline where you can enjoy a briny dip in proper swimming attire, something that’s lacking in, say, Puducherry, Chennai or even in Mumbai. 

India is a culturally conservative country, and semi-nudity is frowned upon. You can defy this and jump into the sea all the same, but expect people to stop and stare in judgment. Not in Goa though. Walk to Candolim, for instance, in north Goa, in your swimming-trunk or bikini, and you’re one amongst many other sunbathers there. 

Dessai’s office, where we’re chatting about Goa, is just an eight-minute walk from the aforementioned beach. Reaching into his drawer to pull out the official figures of vacationers, he says, “Goa is the busiest tourist spot in the country. In fact, it is a perennial holiday destination as we easily receive about three lakh tourists during off-season alone. We even offer monsoon packages (June to August) for which we get an overwhelming response each year.” 

The number during the peak months from September to May escalates to eight lakh domestic tourists and one lakh international tourists. These numbers include those visiting for leisure and business both. 

Although tourism is the breadwinner for the state, earning a total of ₹1,200 crore to ₹1,500 crore annually from its visitors alone, the government is making an effort to support its other industries too. These include mining, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, finance, and more recently, the IT sector. They aren’t present in large numbers or give volumes to the country, but they do generate business tourism for Goa. 

Goa’s 16 Special Economic Zones have many SMEs and MNCs open shop or a branch of the bigger organisation here. Cheap real estate makes land affordable to establish manufacturing units here, bringing several MICE groups to the state. 

Jnanesh Upponi, CEO, Fountainhead, an event management company, reveals, “MICE is an old story for Goa among the higher level officials. It easily goes back ten to 15 years. And the reason is obvious — it’s not seasonal, and conferencing indoors during monsoons is not only cosy, but cheap as well.” 

Upponi, however, echoing what Dessai had emphasised to me, continues to say that while Goa has been swinging high on popularity amongst all age-groups, it’s only in the last four to five years that there has been a fillip in Goa’s tourism. It comes at a time when the internet plays an important medium for word of mouth. 

“We (Goa Tourism) use social media platforms, and have launched our e-commerce portal, which helps give the world easy access to information on Goa,” says Dessai. “We have also seen tourists — domestic and international — become our informal ambassadors after visiting us — thanks to social media.” 

At the hotel where I was staying, Jayakrishnan Sudhakaran, Director of Sales & Marketing, Novotel Goa walks me through his meeting and banqueting space that is large enough for 1,180 people. Everything is hooked to the internet in addition to screens, projectors and audio-visual technology in place for immediate use. “We see multinationals from their regional offices in India driving MICE directly and indirectly to Goa. We benefit from this exposure and get a small but important share of international MICE business too. On an average we receive 15-20 groups a month.” 

“If there is a request to include these in the itinerary, they can be organised,” adds Sudhakaran. Novotel Goa Resorts & Spa earns 50 per cent of its total revenue from solo corporate travellers or corporate groups. For large groups, it works closely with the visiting company to plan on-site activities for entertainment.

To add flavour to its portfolio of offerings, Goa Tourism Development Corporation has recently launched heli-tourism. These have been in existence since February at Park Hyatt Place in Candolim. Hot-air balloon rides have been in existence for a while. 

Upponi says city excursions don’t hold much for MICE groups except maybe church visits and local markets. “You need a budget for helicopters and balloons. Water sports are popular, but executives at that [top] level and age wouldn’t particularly indulge in them. Gala dinners and beach sessions are more popular from what I have seen.” 

However, Manoj Jain, VP Commercial, Delta Corp moots this point. He says casinos are responsible for adding Goa’s tourist count. “In the past five years, casinos have been receiving 30 per cent more visitors, of which 98 per cent are Indians. Recently, the new trend of weekenders has surfaced, thanks to more cheap and frequent flights. They fly in on a Friday to gamble, eat and drink over the weekend, and fly out on Sunday or Monday.” 

Besides, the licence to legally operate casinos in India is solely in the hands of Goa, the eastern state of Sikkim and the Union Territory of Daman and Diu. “People choose Goa over the other casino states because of easy connectivity,” Jain states the obvious. 

There are four offshore casinos known as floating casinos, and more than a dozen onshore casinos that receive an average of 3,000 guests each, per day. “Together we must be generating approximately ₹600 crore annually.” 

“We don’t include casinos in our MICE plans,” Upponi enunciates, “but we don’t discourage those who want to visit casinos either. People can visit them on their own time, just as they would the beaches or churches. There is a good chance that our group has already been to Goa in the past, and knows the place as well as we do.” 

It’s true. Goa is a convenient destination. You have a number of beaches to choose from — crowded, secluded and even private if your hotel has one; the sands are populated with shacks that offer sun-beds on hire; alcohol is cheaper than in the big Indian cities due to lower excise duty; and there are more than one daily flights between Goa International Airport and Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Delhi to name a few. 

Goa International Airport or Dabolim Airport isn’t far behind in impressing visitors. Airports Council International’s (ACI’s) 2015 survey has recognised eight Indian airports in the top ranks for their commendable customer service and improvements made from feedback. Under the “Best Airport in Asia-Pacific” category, Goa ranks fourth. 

Introduction of e-visas in 2015 has logged more than 80,000 applicants of the total 5,41,480 foreign tourists in the past year for whom Goa is the disembarkation port. Russians are a majority – and they even have a small Russian colony in Goa’s Morjim area. Most stay for months until the end of summer before going back, others indulge in small activities to earn some money such as teaching Russian to locals, running home-restaurants, selling handmade trinkets, and such jobs. 

Goa as a state is not very big, being almost double the size of India’s capital city — 3,702 sqkm — it is often mistaken as another Indian city. Visitors don’t just look at one part, but the entire state for various recreational avenues. 

Beaches such as Calangute, Candolim, Baga, Anjuna and Vagator in north Goa are famous for their shacks, restaurants and impromptu beach parties, flocked mostly by teens and older party animals. Agonda and Palolem in South Goa have been ranked amongst the top ten must-visit Asian beaches by online travel portal, tripadvisor.com. South Goa is comparatively calmer with thick forests, hinterlands, secluded beaches, heritage tours, frequented commonly by the older generation or solitude-seekers. 

If you were to book your hotel as per brand and category, the more luxurious ones are in south Goa, and mid-level to budget accommodation, as well as a majority of the shacks are in North Goa. 

The shack culture is seasonal there, functional from September to March. Some are private and 350 are government-owned. 

Every three years the government auctions its shacks to the locals (non-residents aren’t allowed participation) in an effort to help the unemployed youth. Previous shack owners with experience are preferred and they go for anything between ₹60,000 and ₹1 lakh as a one-time fee for three years. 

This fee is negligible compared to the copious profits they enjoy each month. For instance, there is no ceiling on how much shacks may price a bottle of water or food items; likewise they can quote any price to rent out equipment such as for snorkelling, floats and sunbeds. 

Amar Albuquerque, Front Office Manager, Novotel Resorts & Spa, and a local tells me, “Some tender winners further lease out their shacks to immigrants, while the owners sit back and enjoy the “Goan life”. In the remaining months they may get work in hotels, restaurants or other such service sectors as helping hands. Non-Goans may go back to their home states.” 

Perhaps being literally on the beach, so close to the waters, is what makes shacks interesting. “They do have a certain charm to them. Otherwise why would people continue to visit them?” Albuquerque asks rhetorically. Some offer sea-view rooms, almost abutting the coastline, on the seashore for as little as ₹500 a night. They’re very basic in their amenities though. Others are known for getting their Goan food right – prawn curry, fried fish, masala clams, and the like – all of course, local catch. 

One would never imagine that with so much going on for Goa, commuting within the state can be a nightmare. Taxis apply to the regional body for a licence to operate only in a certain area and tie up with not more than one hotel. 

Hotels cannot book taxis from another area, but taxis can take non-guests too. This way they have a steady income. They don’t go by a meter, but follow a queue system where the drivers serve by turn. High-season months will see soaring prices; there is no limit during Christmas and New Years. Don’t even try to compare the pricing to Mumbai’s for they are a pinching ₹500 to ₹600 more. 

Nobody has challenged this and none of the locals care. Most have their four- and two-wheelers with which they are content. Each area has a homely feel to it, where the neighbours are happy assisting each other should the need arise. 

Goa has a laid-back vibe where they practice “eat, drink and be merry”. When you live by this motto, no wonder your hometown is welcoming to visitors, and locals are happy to remain in Goa — or at least that’s what my conversation with the youth at shacks revealed. 

BEYOND BEACHES

Goa’s casual vibe seems to bring out flea markets, family-run pubs and kitchens, coconut stalls, and shacks on beaches like on any other tropical holiday. Then there are river cruises, with live Goan music and local Goan food. And for a little bit of history, there are ancient churches such as Se Cathedral from the 16th century, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in baroque style since 1609, and UNECO World Heritage Site Basilica of Bom Jesus since  1605. However, there are more ways to enjoy Goa, and these include:  

Helicopter Joy Rides 

The ride starts from Park Hyatt on Arossim Beach road to The Leela in Cavelossim and back in south Goa. This lasts for 10 minutes with lovely views of the coastline, palm trees, and hotels. At a time, five people can ride together for ₹3,500 per person. goa-tourism.com 

Hot Air Ballooning 

The balloon takes flight from the very interiors of south Goa, away from the sea. It starts at 6:30am and the entire experience lasts two hours. Up to 20 people can fly together for ₹9,500 per person. You’re greeted by your pilot on arrival, debriefed on the flight, invited to help with the inflation and deflation post the ride. goa.park.hyatt.com 

Deltin Royale Casino 

Texas hold ’em poker, American roulette, Indian flush, Baccarat, Blackjack, you name it and it’s probably waiting for you at one of Goa’s most famous floating casinos. Slot machines kept me entertained as I’m not as much of a gambler as my companions. There are also dance performances, live music, comedy shows, and other such entertainment on board the floating casino ship. At nights you enjoy a dazzling view of Goa from the waters. deltin.com 

WHERE TO EAT?

Thalassa for Greek souvlaki and the view; thalassagoa.com

The Fisherman’s Wharf for prawn balchao influenced by the Portuguese; thefishermanswharf.in 

Martin’s Corner for fish caldin that is a fiery curry; martinscornergoa.com 

Infantaria for quintessential Goan pork sausages; tel: +91 99222 02526 

Mum’s Kitchen for Kombdechem (chicken) Sukhem, a specialty of Goan tribal communities; mumskitchengoa.com 

WHERE TO STAY?

Novotel Goa Resort and Spa

It is a seven-minute walk to Novotel Goa Shrem. The property first opened as Grand Mercure, but was later renamed to Novotel because not many Indians are familiar with the Mercure brand.  It isn’t a beach facing property, but has beautiful views of the paddy fields from its spa, pool, and yoga space. Internet is free throughout the hotel, except in the banquet area that offers packages as per requirement. novotel.com 

Vivanta by Taj Fort Aguada 

The first luxury hotel in Goa offers beautiful views of the 16th century fort after which it is named and the splashing waves below from its infinity pool. The rooms are divided into garden-view and sea-view. There are five meeting rooms in addition to open lawn spaces. The rooms can accommodate from 15 to 600 delegates, and 1600 in the lawns. tajhotels.com 

The Leela 

The 75-acre property with a 12-hole golf course and a beach of its own is luxury at its finest. There are several lagoons or pools for choice, each one designed artistically. The smallest room is sized spaciously at 35 sqm plus 15 sqm balcony. The total capacity of all four meeting rooms is for 1040 delegates. theleela.com

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