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COMMENT: Shacks are like restaurants... but need a more long-termvision (Kazi/Siqueira)

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Old March 19th, 2004, 10:13 PM
Frederick Noronha \(FN\)
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Default COMMENT: Shacks are like restaurants... but need a more long-termvision (Kazi/Siqueira)

Shacks are like restaurants... but need a more long-term vision

By Saltanat Kazi & Alito Siqueira

This paper aims at understanding the conflict over tourism and resource use
and its implication to policy through a case study of beach shacks in Goa,
more specifically in two villages in North Goa, namely Calangute and
Candolim. It begins by a definition of shacks with reference to restaurants
and their differences, and goes on to see how shacks have come to prominence
at the beach as an industry and how the development of shacks led to
conflicts and the emergence of policy.

Beach shacks are like restaurants and are a part of the food and
beverage sector of the tourism industry. The term like is used
to emphasis what distinguishes shacks from restaurants; these
features are as follows.

* The location of shacks on the beach -- just above the high tide line on
public space.

* The temporary nature of shacks, which are on the beach only during the
tourist season from mid-September to end-May and cater mainly to tourist.

* The structure of shacks, which have a rustic appearance as they are built
of organic material such as wood, bamboo and matted leaves etc. The use of
these materials is due to the temporary nature of these structures as well
as its location as it comes up within the CRZ area.

* The services provided at the beach shacks have a post-modernist nature for
the following reasons: (a) blurred distinction between front and back, and
inside and outside of the beach shack (b) an informal relation between
tourists and shack owners and staff; and (c) personalised or customised

Shacks compete with restaurants in hotels for tourist revenue and are
preferred for some of the following reasons:

* Shacks serve food and drinks on the beach itself.

* Shacks relieve tourist from the heat and the sun as they are the only
structures on the beach.

* The food served in the shacks is said to be cheap and fresh. The food is
cheap in shacks as they have less overheads than restaurants and hotels.
The freshness can be put down to greater dependence on local village markets
for food supplies and less dependence on cold-storages.

* Shacks offer a personalised service. Unlike hotels where waiters change
with shifts, shacks have the same person throughout. This leads to
familiarity and a bond between the client and customer, and may instil a
feeling of security in the tourist who is in a foreign destination.

* Customers may be surprised with complimentaries and be offered
or themselves offer and return such gestures. This is quite in contrast to
restaurants in hotels where the staff are uniformed, interacting formally
with customers, and decisions regarding complimentaries and discounts are
taken at higher rungs in the hierarchy.

* Being adaptable, shacks are quick to change in response to
changes in demand. For instance, in North Goa shacks cater to a younger
tourists with a more active night life of parties and discos. This
adaptability may be attributed to the type of ownership and having close kin
among the staff.

Prior to the development of tourism, somewhat similar structures on the
beaches protected fishermen's boats in the non-fishing season and some
provided them with shelters in which to sit and sew or repair their nets.
Some were also used by beach visitors for shade.

With the growth of the beach as a site for local summer recreation, beach
shacks emerged from the mid-20th century on. Beach shacks now provide a
range of services in terms of multi- cuisine food, snacks and drinks. In
addition to this, they provide relevant information on available facilities
and sometimes also provide them.

The development of beach shacks is closely associated with the development
of international tourism in Goa. This is due to the difference in the gaze
of the domestic and international tourists. The domestic tourists and the
international tourists experience the beach differently. For the domestic
tourists, the beach, the water, and the popularity of the place, are of
greater relative importance, while for the international tourists, being on
the beach and feeling the water, the sand and sun are what the experience is
about. Hence, the international tourists spend far more time on the beach
and at beach shacks as compared to the domestic tourists.

Beach shacks in India need to be licensed as the beach is a public area and
the state is empowered to maintain this status quo. Hence, the government
grants a temporary license to allow shack owners to set up beach shacks in
the tourist season. Beach shacks were first licensed by the local village
panchayat and in most cases favoured applications from the village itself.
After 1995, the state government licensed beach shacks, more specifically,
the Department of Tourism.

This allocation of shacks has become a controversial issue, as there is much
profit to be had from them. But obtaining a license comes for a price.
Unlicensed shacks have been a cause of concern to the government, the hotels
and restaurants and other licensed shack owners.

It is a cause for government concern as illegal shacks over-crowd the beach,
while hotels and restaurants and other shacks suffer unfair competition by
the undercutting of prices. Illegal shacks have come up either because of a
lack of vigilance by the tourism department or panchayat or because
interference from local politicians has prevented the enforcement of rules.
Such interference has been an expression of local political intention to
pander to a vote-bank.

To counteract political interference in this economic allocation, the High
Court in Goa directed the state government to allot licenses in an impartial
manner. In response, the state government started allotting licenses on the
basis of a lottery system.

However, such a system increases uncertainty and has resulted in dummy
candidates contesting. Further, it leads to a market in licenses -- either
the sub-letting of the lease at an additional price, or obtaining the
license for speculative purposes. This system fails to guarantee a license
to traditional shack owners for whom shacks were a means of livelihood.

As mentioned earlier, beach shacks in Goa have come into conflict with
hotels as they vie for the same tourist. Restaurants of hotels are one of
the main sources of income for hotels. When guests patronise the shacks,
this income is lost to the hotel. Hotels that have access to the beach put
up structures, and organize beach parties close to the beach, and may even
discourage their guests from visiting shacks. In order to attract customers,
shacks come up close to the beach-front hotels.

The closer a shack is to the hotel, the more is its business potential. The
location allotted to the shacks is also determined by lots, this has
resulted in internal re-adjustment by licensed shack owners amongst
themselves. It is the location factor that has resulted in shacks getting
clustered more at the beach access points and close to hotels.

How do shacks compare with hotel and other restaurants in terms of their use
of coastal resources? Both have a demand for land. While the average land
area under shacks ranges between 40 to 300 sq. meters, that for restaurants
ranges between 25 to 3000 sq. meters. (COASTIN Survey 2000, 2001).
However, unlike restaurants and hotels, shacks are temporary structures.
Hence hotels and restaurants tend to more permanently change land use or
land cover.

The flip side is that the temporary nature of shacks may lead them to have
fewer systems for waste management. Shacks operate only in the tourist
season and owners are not certain that they will get a license in the
subsequent season, or occupy the same location. So, incentives for good
practices are missing.

Typically, shacks pay the local village panchayats a fee for garbage
collection while obtaining the license; however there is no collection from
the shacks on the beach. In the absence of organized collection, shacks dump
their waste into pits in the sand, or throw it behind the sand dunes.

Shacks have no water connections on the beach, and thus compelled to employ
workers to carry water to them. This is probably why less water is used by
shacks in comparison to restaurants. The survey showed that, on average
shacks use around 8 litres per table per day, whereas restaurants use around
64 litres per cover per day.

Dependence on well water by shacks is more than 69% and for restaurants it
is 51%. Piped water accounts for 31% and 41% respectively for shacks and
restaurants. Restaurants would hence exert greater pressure on ground water
on account of their consumption needs, which is eight times that of the

Hotels and shacks compete not only for the same client, but also for
resources. These conflicting demands have had an impact on regulatory policy
which reflects power politics at play. Some of these effects can be seen in
the clauses of shack licenses:

* Application for licenses prohibits cooking of food although warming or
heating of food is permitted. Shack owner resent this clause and have had
occasion to take up the matter with the tourism minister. As it is evident
that food is cooked at the shacks without any hinder from the government
authority, this suggests that the clause was inserted to appease the hotel

* Clause 4 of the terms and condition 1998-99, state that shacks should not
come up in front of any hotel property. There are certain eligibility
criteria for the applicants, which are nonsensical when viewed in the
economic context of shacks. The eligibility criteria require applicants and
their families to be unemployed. Given that shacks require a minimum
investment of Rs 50,000, this results in either false statements regarding
employment status or the putting up of dummy candidates who fit the
prescribed criteria.

Government policy towards the shacks has generally been post facto or
reactive in nature. It was only in 1995 that state government took over
licensing of beach shacks because the number of shack on the beach had
increased. This has resulted in the formulation of policies without enough

Government policy reflects trade-offs between various issues such as
political considerations (maintaining their vote banks in the locality),
social welfare (applicants should be unemployed with low income but must at
the same time be able to invest in the activity), promotion of tourism
(regulate the number of beach shacks) and appeasing the hotel lobby. A more
long-term vision is urgently required.

Kazi is research associate with TERI-Goa, while Siqueira is Lecturer
associated with Goa University's Tourism Study Group. Email:
and This paper was earlier
published by TERI, The Energy Research Institute.

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