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Rediff.com  » News » Is Goa still safe for tourists?

Is Goa still safe for tourists?

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Last updated on: March 10, 2008 15:37 IST

Is the sun setting on Goa? The deaths of 15-year-old Scarlette Keeling and 34-year-old Michael Harvey, both British nationals in Goa, that too in quick succession has made this place a talking point and a pet bashing subject for the foreign media.

These deaths raise the question whether Goa is still a safe destination for tourists.

Statistics reveal that 2.2 million foreign tourists visited Goa in 2007 of which 200000 were British nationals.

In the year 2007-08, 10 British tourists have died in Goa and the British Commission claims that at least four were due to unnatural causes.

While foreign tourists would like to believe that their lives are no longer safe in Goa, local residents claim otherwise.

The local Goan says that crime is common across the world and it is common knowledge that one has to tread carefully especially at nights.

Before getting into what exactly is happening in Goa and why tourists are being targeted, let us take a look at how the number of deaths of tourists has increased in the past few years.

Statistics with the Foreigner's Branch indicate that 27 foreign nationals have died in Goa since the beginning of the year 2008.

Scarlette was the 17th among the 11 British nationals to have died in Goa, statistics also reveal.

The remaining deaths are of those from Sudan, Germany, Australia, Russia, Japan and Sweden.

Even the statistics for the years 2007 and 2006 indicate the most of the tourists who have died in Goa are of British origin.

Twenty-eight out of the 55 deaths of tourists that occurred in 2006 were of British nationals. In 2007 there were 32 British nationals found dead out of the 80 deaths that occurred.

These statistics reveal that deaths among British tourists is the highest when compared to those from other countries.

Are they being targeted in particular? The answer would be no. For the British, Goa is a favourite destination as it is one of the cheapest holidays for them.

For a British tourist a week at Goa during the peak season would work out to 350 pounds. During the off season, the prices range anything between£190 to 200 pounds per week. It is thanks to these affordable prices that the British constitute 60 per cent of the tourist population in Goa all through the year.

Coming back to the issue of tourist deaths, the fact that has to be ascertained now is whether all these deaths are unnatural?

Statistics would go on to show that almost 40 per cent of the cases are due to natural causes.

It could have occurred either due to road accidents, drowning, overdose of drugs and even ailments. However, the shocking fact is that almost 50 per cent of the cases are yet to be solved.

Unfortunately, Goa does not have its own Forensic Sciences Laboratory and hence, the viscera has to be sent to either New Delhi or Hyderabad for chemical analysis so as to ascertain the exact cause of the death.

While this year six out of the 12 cases have been referred for chemical analysis, last year it was 25.

The police say they have no choice, but to wait for the reports from the labs. Only then one could come to any sort of conclusion and ascertain the reasons behind the death.

Is Goa unsafe: The question being asked now is whether Goa is unsafe? Ask this question to anyone and each one is quick to jump and deny it. It is not as though the crime rate is high, the police say. If tourists die due to natural causes or overdose of drugs, how can Goa be considered as unsafe, they ask.

In the 1970s when the hippie culture was at its peak, there were not many reports of crimes against tourists.

However, the scene now is different. There are several cases of sexual assault, most of which have gone unreported.

This, according to the locals, is largely due to a culture clash. Says Rodrigues Noronha, a resident of Panjim, "There is growing intotelerance towards the white woman culture in Goa. Back in the 1970s, the beaches were almost reserved for the hippies and none of the locals even bothered interfering with them. However, now the scene is different. Most of the youngsters cannot come to terms with the fact that the white woman behave in Goa exactly the way they would do so in their country. Hence, when these youngsters see skimpily clad women, they feel as though it is an invitation to sex."

Linda, a British national at the Anjuna beach, says, "Sex is no big deal. Back down in our country there is a manner in which this issue is dealt with. There is a considerable amount of proximity and wooing before one gets into the act. However, here I have noticed that the minute people see us, they think sex is on the house and almost instant. I have personally witnessed some incidents in which the woman has protested as a result of which she has been assaulted."

The point that Goans are trying to drive across now is, "while in India do as Indians do."

The tourists must realise that India's is a traditional set up and there is a certain amount of decency required.

Chief Minister of Goa Digambar Kamath has repeatedly said that one cannot afford to wander around at any part of the time, throwing caution to the winds.

Tourists, especially women, should not wander about unnecessarily at night. He, however, adds that Goa is still the safest place for tourists and the government cannot be blamed for all the incidents.

Is tourism down? Have these recent incidents caused a dent in the tourism sector of Goa? The answer is no, according to several tour operators and agencies. There is no panic and bookings are taking place as usual, say travel agencies.

There have also not been any cancellations especially by British tourists, the agencies add.

SITA, an agency which deals with travel packages relating to the UK and the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, say that business is as usual. There have been no cancellations, they add.

There are a few travel agencies who have cautioned tourists to tread carefully while in India.

A note is sent to tourists to be careful, not stroll out alone at night and also respect local customs.

This, according to agencies, is aimed at intimating the tourist in advance to tread carefully and also be responsible for his/her own safety.

Vicky Nanjappa in Goa

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