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Picture Credit: Kishore V

 

With Goa facing a lacklustre tourist season, amid competition from international tourism destinations like Thailand, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, an economically disadvantaged United Kingdom and the Russia-Ukraine war, hospitality industry stakeholders in Goa are looking forward to critical interventions in Chief Minister Pramod Sawant’s budget speech to steer the industry to good footing. 

Broadly put, the demands being voiced by the stakeholders appear to be tuned towards bolstering the state’s hospitality industry’s resilience to take on the new challenges facing the sector. 

According to Prahlad Sukhtankar, National Restaurant Association of India’s (NRAI) Goa Chapter Head, who held a pre-budget discussion with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, there is need for parity in water rates between hotels and restaurants; the latter he claims have to pay exorbitant fees to tap the key resource. 

“Water rate parity is a primary concern, as restaurants currently face higher commercial rates than hotels. The industry seeks uniform pricing to promote fairness,” Sukhtankar said. 

Hotels currently pay Rs 38 per cubic metres and while restaurants are supposed to pay Rs 26 to Rs. 33 depending on size, they instead end up paying commercial water rates of Rs 44.10 per cubic metre, which is higher than what hotels are charged, Sukhtankar explained, adding that the Association has also proposed to the government extending the regular operating hours for restaurants from 11 pm to 12 am. “This extension, particularly crucial for family restaurants in coastal areas, aligns with the tourism industry’s dynamics. Many family restaurants in coastal areas, vital for the tourism industry, find it inconvenient to close by 10:45 pm and extending the basic timing would be beneficial,” he said. 

Tanveer Kwatra, general manager of Vagator’s W Goa addressed concerns about the fading international tourist footfalls to Goa. “The need of the hour is bringing more customers into the market. If I look at the top tier segment, we really need an influx of foreign tourists coming into the market and I think that will drive real quality tourism and change the landscape of Goa especially when we are looking at the global segment and Goa being a global destination and I think we should look at measures that will help us,” Kwatra said. 

“The feeder markets that one can look at primarily are from October until April. Europe is cold so there are a lot of opportunities from European markets for the tourists to come mainly from the UK, France, Spain and others. In the Middle East markets, there is a lot of expert community in that gamut and we should target that by bringing it into Goa,” he also said. 

Parixit Pai Fondekar, founder of Kamaxi Group, sheds light on the existing skilling gap in the hospitality workforce. While acknowledging government schemes, he emphasises the necessity of proactive measures to make potential beneficiaries aware of these initiatives. The Kamaxi Group runs Kamaxi College of Culinary Arts, the state’s only culinary B school at Verna and also specialising in upskilling young talent. 

“There are several well-intentioned schemes introduced by the government to encourage skill development among the youth, but often the intended beneficiaries are not even aware of them.  The government can play a pivotal role in mobilising candidates to learn about and participate in skilling programmes.  There must be seamless integration of skill development right from the school level up to post-graduation, to increase the employability of youth,” he said. 

Skilling has been talked about by the state and central governments as critical components of development and employment generation, with the Chief Minister in his last budget increasing the total allocation for skill development and entrepreneurship by as much as 30 percent to beat the unemployment rate in Goa, which is above the national average. 

For Gaurav Bhardwaj, founder of BENO, a popular all-day bar operating from Benaulim in South Goa, leveraging 22 percent VAT on alcoholic drinks in Goa poses challenges for both consumers and restaurant owners, as the hefty tax affects pricing and profitability. 

Bhardwaj calls for a reconsideration of the taxation framework to strike a balance between business sustainability and consumer affordability.

“For instance, if a cocktail is priced at Rs. 350, including 22 percent VAT would price it at Rs. 420. The absence of VAT imposition results in the proprietor earning only Rs. 280, which isn’t sustainable. The profitability of the restaurant is a challenge, even with VAT. While the efficiency of the VAT and excise departments in Goa is acknowledged, the concern lies in the high taxation that affects both businesses and customers,” Bhardwaj said. 

As the hospitality sector eagerly awaits Sawant’s budget announcements, its voices appear to collectively advocate for a comprehensive approach that addresses skill development, taxation concerns and operational dynamics, aiming to fortify Goa’s hospitality industry for sustained growth.