Seaside tourism

She probably does not sell seashells by the seashore anymore because that space has been claimed by business, tourists, or hawking of neon-illuminated toys, and the waves sweep up too much plastic. This image is typical of a tourist-heavy beach in North Goa; however, it is not too far from the situation in the English seaside town of Scarborough in Yorkshire and the Humber.

Seaside tourism, indeed the expansion into mass tourism, was particularly popular in the Victorian era in England. The resorts that emerged along the coast attracted many middle-class families. By the mid 1800s, Blackpool grew as a seaside resort and was seen as an entertainment haven, though without shedding its working-class cultural basis. It wasn’t long before wealthy businesspersons such as those in Leeds and Bradford were buying seaside homes in Scarborough (for more context see here). This followed on into the 1900s and fell drastically only after World War II.

Although one may speculate that this was a result of the impact of the war on the financial situation, and Britain did encourage its people to work within limited means, Urry (1988) proposed that another cause was a ‘postmodern’ shift away from the industrial cultures. This implies a (physical) movement away from aesthetics and aural stimulation – such as the visual seaside as well as the associated smells and textures, to a semiotic form of consumerism (Urry cites Baudrillard) that characterises tourism today. This in postmodern tradition is a symbolic gesture that attempts to blur barriers, against the division between high-low cultures, and traditional definitions of aesthetics. It is no longer just the middle class who indulge in what Veblen (1899) called “conspicuous consumption” manifested as tourism, but people from all groups and strata of society.

Almost in response, by the 1970s Goa emerged as a tourist hub popular initially with British tourists and travellers. By the early 1990s, Indian tourists began visiting the newly-formed state (Goa was a Union Territory up to 1989). At the turn of the century, this coastal state in India seemed to attract an increasing number of tourists from India, crossing any previous class boundaries. Regardless of nationality, people have (im)migrated to Goa , seeing it as an escape from the bustling city life. Simultaneously a labourer population migrated to the state from neighbouring states.

At this point, I wish to take you back to England but in the present. Blackpool and Scarborough today are amongst the poorer towns in England. The move away from destinations in England by the local population was a result of the middle class turning their sights to new, untouched places abroad to experience, such as Goa. Urry (1988) explains that the old seaside towns of England had become popular amongst all sections of the population but with the middle class withdrawing their patronage, the monies required no longer fuelled the tourism machine. This raises a clear question: what happens to local populations when industries fail or no longer seem attractive?

The reaction to mass tourism in Goa (particularly in the 90s) is often muffled amongst popular perception of the region. Activist groups and peoples in Goa such as Jagrut Goenkaranchi Fouz and the Goa Foundation have resisted the industry on the basis of its negative impact on the local Goan population and the unsustainability of the industry which exploits environmental resources (Routledge, 2001) through policy mismanagement which has had a great impact on coastal ecosystems (Noronha, 2004). Yet, the state continues to expand tourism by bringing in big investment resulting in the clearing of land for construction.

This surely is moving in the trajectory of today’s English seasides. Wealthy individuals from major Indian cities procure land or relocate to Goa, having an impact that de Souza (2015) expresses as ironic seeing as the youth in Goa do not have the luxury to enjoy their own state. That is, the problem with this seemingly innocent act of appreciation of Goa’s beauty lays in the ability of these individuals to constantly move to greener pastures when their current location no longer appears beautiful.

Such is the situation in Goa, possibly at the cost of the green space, as well as peoples who perceive this greenery as integral to their identity, one which Brammer and Beech (2004) suggest is already in conflict. One hypothesis is that the current condition in Goa is similar to what was experienced in England in the Victorian era and is prophetic of what is to come in Goa. This will be at the cost of the way of life in Goa, and its natural resources. Accordingly, another important aspect that needs critical thought is the intersubjective nature of the impact of tourism, mining and tribal rights violation in Goa. When we do start to unpick this, we must also consider Saldanha’s (2002) observation that “constituting ‘Goa’ as a place to be rescued from globalisation has to be done in conjuction [sic]  with understanding that the constitution of Goa is itself always already a product of globalisation” (108).

                                                Sinead D'silva