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Tin mining to tourism: Goa seeks inspiration from Malaysian model

Panaji, April 2 (IANS) With the future of the multi-million dollar mining industry uncertain, Goa is now looking to Malaysia for inspiration and revival of its fiscal fortunes. The manner in which Malaysia converted adversity in the form of a fading tin mining industry more than 30 years ago and transformed into a tourism giant is a model which Goa tourism now seeks to emulate.

According to tourism director Nikhil Desai, Malaysia's transition from a country which was facing massive unemployment and an economy with a declining tin industry into a top draw tourism destination in Asia today is something Goa needs to learn from.

"The tin mines were fading out in Malaysia in the late 1970s. Shift to circa 2013 in Goa where iron ore mining is banned. Why cannot we emulate what another country has done?" Desai asked, while speaking to IANS.

He said that the brief given to prospective brand consultants, which the tourism ministry is keen on hiring, to re-orient Goa's brand as a tourism destination was to keep the Malaysian revival in mind when drawing up its strategy.

The future of Goa's mining industry hangs in balance after the Supreme Court, hearing a petition on a Rs 35,000 crore illegal mining scam, banned it last October.

While the ban served as a wake-up call for the Goa government, in Malaysia, the tin mines were petering out due to more than a century of operations. A sector which produced 63,000 tonnes of tin (then 31 per cent of the world output) and employed over 40,000 people was slowly dying out.

Malaysia's turnaround from a country riddled with open cast mines to a slick hub of trade and tourism can be gauged by the prosperity of Kuala Lumpur, its fashionable capital that was once a prime mining area.

"Today Malaysia is in the top 10 in the world as far as tourist arrivals is concerned. It has converted adversity into opportunity. It is a relatively conservative country as compared to Thailand. But Thailand gets 18 million tourists annually, while Malaysia gets 20 million," Desai pointed out.

The transformation of the Sungai Lembing mine, once known as the deepest and longest tin mine in the world, into a leading tourism destination is just one example of the Malay innovation that turned the tide favourably for the nation.

The mine, which was started in the 1880s by the British and wound up in the 1980s, now has a museum, an underground tour among many attractive sites that attract thousands of tourists every day.

"Why doesn't Goa go that way?" Desai wondered.

Goa's hinterland is dotted with more than 100 mining caverns out of which millions of tonnes of iron ore has been extracted and exported since the time Goa was a Portuguese colony. Several of the pits now lie abandoned and exhausted.

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at mayabhushan.n@ians.in)

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