From a hippie haven to a hip destination

The Indian state of Goa was yesterday named as the "best value winter destination" for holidaymakers, despite widespread concern over the environmental impact of its tourism, writes Steve Boggan.

A survey of resorts popular with British holidaymakers found that Goa was cheaper than any other destination for a range of goods and services from food to petrol.

The results of the survey, conducted by Thomas Cook, are likely to stimulate demand further for places along a coastline described recently in a television documentary as a huge Benidorm in the making. During the BBC2 programme, Our Man in Goa, Clive Anderson gave details of chaotic development of 65km of coastline previously regarded as a hippie paradise.

At the time, Tricia Barnett, Tourism Concern's co-ordinator, said: "For several years Tourism Concern has been telling tour operators about Goan environmental groups' concerns over the continuing violation of local environmental regulations and people's rights."

Officials estimate that the number of tourists visiting Goa has increased from 10,000 in 1972 to well over a million in the early Nineties. One reason has been the increased capacity in Goa's main airport, Dabolim, resulting from a runway extension.

Tourism Concern, which based its charges on a report from the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests listing widespread and "flagrant" breaches of environmental laws by holiday complexes, blames British tour operators which use the hotels responsible.

Thomas Cook said it was not trying to stimulate tourism in Goa, but was simply compiling data on costs.

Among its findings, it established that Majorca and the Canary Islands were inexpensive for food; Portugal was cheapest for beer; Tunisia most expensive for sun lotion and Cuba the most expensive for spirits.

Despite yesterday's results there is historical evidence to suggest that Goa's growth need not continue exponentially. Tourists turn their backs on resorts with poor infrastructures - such as Spain in the early 1970s and Turkey 10 years ago.

More recently, tourists have proved they will not stand for unreasonable price increases. Greece, which used to be Britons' second-favourite short- haul package destination, after Spain on 5 million, fell last year to 1.1 million and is expected to be overtaken within 18 months by Turkey, which attracted 800,000 Britons last year.

Portugal and Italy, attracting 500,000 and 300,000 each, are next in the short-haul package league, although France, which attracts many more independent travellers is, in reality, far more popular.

The United States heads the long-haul league, with about 1 million tourists venturing there.