by James Ruggia
Last updated: 4:25 PM ET, Thu February 12, 2015
PHOTO: The Hard Rock Hotel Goa will bring a higher end experience to rock and roll families visiting Calagunte. (Courtesy of The Hard Rock Hotel)
Goa, the former Portuguese outpost on the west coast of India, about an hour's flight from Mumbai, is growing its tourism fast and feeling some growing pains. Goa's international tourism really began in the 1960s as a popular port of call on the overland to India circuit. There's no denying the beauty of the destination with its sprawling beaches, Indo-Portuguese seafood, its old Portuguese capital where St. Frances Xavier is buried and its proximity to other especially rich tourism states such as Kerala and Maharashtra.
The state's popularity with a younger crowd of tourists has often rubbed against the cultural conservatism of the local people. India's smallest state, Goa finds itself both reliant on, and sometimes repelled by, its success in attracting youthful tourists from abroad.
Vasco da Gama first planted the Portuguese colors in Goa in 1498 and it was a colonial enclave for the next 450 years, finally winning independence and sovereignty with the rest of India in 1948. The churches and convents of Old Goa, a city once larger than Paris, still draw Catholic pilgrims as they did the Jesuit saint, Francis Xavier. Old Goa with its giant Cathedral and its Basilica of Bom Jesus and its Church of St. Francis, may be less visited than the beaches, but they're infinitely more interesting to the culturally curious.
Though the Governor of Goa warned against the social ills being brought in by tourists in a recent speech, the state doesn't appear to be backing away from an industry that makes up a fifth of the state's revenues. At the same time as the speech was drawing attention among domestic stakeholders, the state was being named to National Geographic's Top 10 list for Night Life and new plans were unveiled by the government to attract private investors for six more tourist developments. Tourism grew by a robust 30 percent despite the collapse of what had been a very lucrative Russian charter market.
To perhaps offset lost Russian tourists, Goan officials began offering Visa on Arrival to travelers from a total of 43 countries including the U.S. The airport at Dabolim began offering arrival visas in December. Goa is one of the nine Indian airports which have been selected for providing the VoA facility.
This coming spring, the Hard Rock Hotel will open in Goa joining Ibiza, Spain, as the other destination on National Geographic's Night Life list that has a Hard Rock. For Hard Rock International (HRI), the 135-room hotel will be its first in India and its sixth in Asia. Other Asian Hard Rock Hotels can be found in Bali, Macau, Pattaya, Penang and Singapore. Not too long ago HRI projected a growth curve that would take the company from its current inventory of 21 properties to 100 by 2020.
HRI recently hired Daniel Cheng as senior vice president of business development, Asia-Pacific. Cheng has a long history in casinos having worked for Resorts World, Bally Gaming Systems and others. "Cheng's appointment is a strategic move designed to accelerate momentum behind the brand's global gaming growth plans," the announcement said. Cheng will scout casino investment and development partners within key countries, such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. New Asian Hard Rock Hotels already in development include two in China in Shenzhen and Haikou.
The Hard Rock Hotel Goa is being built from the North 16 GOA Resort. It will bring the signature HRI features such as the Sound of Your Stay program that allows guests to check out Fender guitars, DJ equipment and music download for their rooms; music performances and events and more. The resort is located in Calagunte, a North Goan town known for nightlife and a youth music scene. "The Hard Rock Hotel Goa will be located in a destination rich in culture and entertainment, and sharing the same vibrant, free spirit of the Hard Rock brand," said Hamish Dodds, HRI's CEO.
The Economic Times is reporting that the Goan government is inviting investors to renovate some high end resort properties and two build two more. New tourism developments will also feature more family oriented attractions such as an aquarium, a water park and a ropeway that will cross the river taking tourists from Panjim into Fort Reis Magos. The state is also entertaining bids for a new airport.
Goan officials seem to be hoping that an infusion of high end properties can both embrace and pacify the youth music scene the state is known for and at the same time attract more families. Hard Rock hotels have a way of keeping the rock and roll energy high, but also containing it and dressing it up a bit. This should be a good marriage of mutual interests.
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