Mass tourism blamed for paradise lost in Goa: Tour operators who promote an Indian state as a dream holiday destination are accused of turning a blind eye to reality. David Nicholson-Lord reports

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The Independent Online
THE WORDS and imagery are persuasive: they speak of dream holidays, friendly locals, an unspoilt, palm-fringed paradise. The reality is drug abuse, child prostitution and widespread environmental destruction.

The Indian coastal state of Goa was singled out yesterday as an object lesson in how mass tourism to 'exotic' locations has gone badly wrong. According to the pressure group Tourism Concern, Western tour operators are causing much of the damage but are 'washing their hands' of responsibility.

Many operators, including Thomson, British Airways and Cox and King, claim to be espousing 'green' tourism. Yet British Airways Holidays is one of several British operators to send its clients to the Cidade de Goa hotel, which built an 8ft (2.4m) wall around a public beach to try to deny local people access; court orders have now forced it to open a public path.

Other operators using the Cidade de Goa, which has been accused by environmental groups of dumping sewage in a drain that exits directly on to the beach, include Cosmos, Kuoni, Sunworld and Inspirations India.

British Airways and Cox and King both send British tourists to new complexes such as the Taj holiday village and the Fort Aguada beach resort. These are guaranteed water 24 hours a day. Yet the pipeline that supplies them passes through nearby villages that asked for between one and two hours' use of the pipe each day but were refused.

Hotels used by British operators have also broken planning and environmental laws, according to Tourism Concern. They have built wells to extract water for gardens - yet there are severe drinking water shortages in Goa, partly caused by tourism. They have also built hotels directly on the beach, damaging dunes, to give guests an uninterrupted sea view and erected barbed wire fences to prevent beach access.

Despite being routinely described in brochures as 'pure joy' (Inspirations India) and an 'unspoilt Paradise' (Hayes and Jarvis), Goa, which became a Western tourist destination after being discovered by hippies in the 1960s, is now the scene of acid parties, raves and increasing child prostitution. Tourist buses have been pelted with rotten fish and cow dung, and police mount drives against drug-taking Westerners. Last year, one local council leader wrote a play about tourism called Sweet Poison.

Goans complain that tourism has put the price of traditional foods such as fish out of reach. Women protest at their portrayal in tourist literature - at how 'they and events like the local carnival are being commoditised at the expense of their dignity and culture'. Children skip school to peddle drugs to Western tourists, who 'affront' the morality of villagers by sunbathing in the nude.

Many local groups are also angry at the special treatment tourists receive, according to a Tourism Concern survey. Hotels, many foreign-owned, receive subsidised water and electricity. Yet one five-star hotel consumes as much water as five villages and one 'five-star tourist' consumes 28 times more electricity per day than a Goan.

Tourism Concern has supported the calls of local groups such as the Goa Foundation, which want British operators to boycott hotels breaking the laws.

However, operators have rejected this. Cosmos, for example, said: 'It is not up to overseas operators to determine what is built by hoteliers and what environmental and social standards should be maintained.' Patricia Barnett, Tourism Concern's co- ordinator, said yesterday that operators refused to use their 'enormous influence' with government in Goa. 'Until we see evidence that they are prepared to get involved . . . we cannot believe 'green tourism' is anything other than a marketing ploy.'

----------------------------------------------------------------- The conflicting views ----------------------------------------------------------------- The Place The Image: The Criticisms: What the brochures say What local people say ----------------------------------------------------------------- Taj and Fort Aguada 'Relaxed . . . laid back Local people denied holiday complexes beautifully and peacefully beach access and positioned access to water pipeline (Inspirations India) Leela Beach Hotel Walk about in the Refuses to rent out extensive grounds and coconut trees to tappers, the predominant noise damages trees, illegal is birdsong' wells built, villages (Inspirations) displaced from land, beach access denied Cidade de Goa Hotel 'Lovely, beachside Beach access denied by setting . . , comfort, wall, sewage dumped, elegance and friendly court orders taken out service' (Cosmos) against it Dona Sylvia Hotel 'Excellent location . . . Illegal fence built, alongside a wonderful dunes damaged to give beach' (Sunworld) guests seaview -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)