Panaji, Feb 16 (IANS) Tourists visiting Goa, which has seen its image as a dream destination take a beating in the recent past, will soon be able to dial a toll-free number in case of emergency situations — day or night.
The special 24-hour helpline will be operated on a public private partnership (PPP) basis, state tourism director Swapnil Naik told IANS.
The helpline would be dedicated to tourist-related concerns and address emergencies on an urgent basis, he added.
“We are looking forward to working on a PPP model to initiate and manage the functioning of this helpline. The centre too is working towards setting up a National Tourist Helpline,” Naik said.
Over the last few years, Goa has been grappling to overcome the negative media it received after the sexual assault and death of British teenager Scarlett Keeling and the subsequent attempts made by the state administration to cover up the crime in 2008.
Over the last two years, there have been several other cases involving sexual assaults on Russian tourists.
Tourists from Britain and Russia form the biggest contingents of visitors, as far as the half a million foreign tourists visiting the state annually are concerned.
In the light of negative publicity, initiatives by the state tourism department like the proposed helpline – likely to be introduced next month – have found support from tourism industry stakeholders.
“The setting up of a tourist helpline is an excellent initiative put forward by the Goa Tourism Department and the industry welcomes it wholeheartedly,” said Ralph de Souza, spokesperson for the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG).
TTAG is one of the trade bodies in the state and has been the voice of tourism and travel trade in Goa for several decades now.
“While other emergencies like 100 and 108 (medical emergency helpline) are extremely effective, an additional helpline meant solely for tourists is most welcome. The helpline can aid in addressing emergencies on an immediate basis,” de Souza said.
The initiative would instill a great amount of confidence in tourists visiting the state, he added.
Naik has also said that during the forthcoming season, special eco-friendly assistance booths for tourists will also be erected in more than a dozen areas with a thick concentration of tourists.
“The tourism department has also issued an Expression of Interest (EOI) calling quotations from interested parties to set up eco-friendly tourist assistance booths at 14 prominent places as well as to maintain it for the next five years,” Naik said.
“The aesthetically designed booths will be created using natural materials, including bamboo, wood, coconut palms and PVC bricks,” the tourism director said.
“Manned by Tourist Police and the newly-commissioned Tourist Security Force (TSF), the smart booths will act as a contact point for tourist information and assistance,” he added.
Apart from nearly two million domestic tourists, Goa annually attracts around half a million foreign tourists, most of whom hail from European countries and arrive in Goa for the moderate winter sun to beat the bitter winter in the continent.