Growth is the buzz word in Goa right now. You can see it in visitor numbers, infrastructure projects, housing prices and the increasing interest being shown by outside developers. Politically Goa might not match the more powerful Indian states, but Goa's tourism rupee – both foreign and domestic – is far from underestimated and, for better or worse, much of Goa's population relies more than ever on the annual influx of holidaying visitors. The question is: how much is too much?

The Tourism Factor

Goa was a solitary Portuguese outpost in India for more than 450 years and the influence of colonial rule can still be seen everywhere: in the exquisite, crumbling architecture; in the East-meets-West cuisine; and in the siesta-saturated joie de vivre that Goans themselves call susegad.

Western travellers, hippies, freaks and backpackers have been dropping into Goa since the sixties but in the past decade the tourism landscape has changed radically, with domestic tourists far outweighing foreign tourists and the overall industry adapting and developing as a result. It's fair to say the growth in tourism in the past five years has surprised even the locals. In 1985, total tourist arrivals were just a tick over 775,000; in 2013 it was over 3.12 million and in 2017 there were 7.79 million visitors – more than doubling in just five years. Of these, only 890,000 were foreign tourists, about 55% of whom were Russian and 19% from the UK.

Young male Indian tourists, singles, couples and families, often middle class with disposable incomes, are now making Goa their holiday destination of choice. While most tourism operators rely on the brief November to February tourist trade, domestic tourists are increasingly visiting in the summer (monsoon) season and weekends are now considered high season at virtually any time of year.

All of this is generally good news for those involved in a saturated tourist trade and for the state's GDP, but a little bemusing for the rest of the population who deal with the annual invasion and the overstretching of precious resources.

Infrastructure Boom

The increasing traffic into and out of Goa and the importance of Mormugao as a seaport has inevitably led to a construction boom. A new greenfield international airport is expected to open at Mopa (North Goa) in 2020 and years of road and bridge construction should also be operational, at least in part, by 2020 – a four to six-lane national highway bypass that could cut north-south travel time to under an hour.

New hotels and resorts are going up across the coastal belt but locals complain that basic infrastructure – water, power, local roads – is struggling to meet the demands, especially in the Candolim-Calangute-Baga belt.

The Darker Side

Despite its charms Goa is not a perfect paradise. The state's large homeless population is mostly made up of migrants from Karnataka and Maharashtra, driven from their homes by water shortages and lured to Goa's coast hoping life will treat them more kindly. Almost inevitably, it doesn’t. Locals also complain of uncontrolled foreign investment with wealthy buyers snapping up prime real estate, and 'mafia-run' businesses paying off corrupt authorities leading to some legitimate businesses being denied licences or rental space.

Meanwhile Goa suffers from a sorely stressed environment, burdened by the effects of logging, iron-ore mining, relentlessly expanding tourism and uncontrolled industrial growth. Rare turtle eggs have traditionally been considered a delicacy but are now precariously protected on increasingly busy beaches, plastic bottles pile up, and vagrant cows feast on refuse from noisome rubbish bins.

Poverty, prostitution, a shady underworld drugs trade, violent crime, including assaults and murders of tourists, and police corruption also remain pressing issues.

Looking to the Future

Goa enjoys one of India’s highest per-capita incomes and comparatively high health and literacy rates, factors which attract migrants and traders from other parts of India. Goa’s active economy has given rise to a healthy Gross Domestic Product of around US$11 billion annually.

Enterprising locals slowly lead the way toward to a cleaner, more sustainable future, instigating local recycling initiatives, volunteering on turtle-egg protection duties, or working with local green organisations, such as the Goa Foundation, on campaigns such as stopping illegal mining. Such efforts, along with luck, persistence and political will, may ensure Goa’s charms retain their place on travel itineraries for centuries to come.

Fast Facts

Population

1.8 million

Area

3700 sq km

Tourist Arrivals

Total 7.79 million; foreigners 890,459 (2017)

Average annual income

₹168,000 (US$2800) per capita

Literacy rate

87%; national average: 74%