Roland Martins

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow since 2000
This description of Roland Martins's work was prepared when Roland Martins was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000.


In Goa, an international tourist hotspot, Roland Martins is training small service providers in the tourism industry to organize trade associations to ensure that tourism revenues filter back into the local economy. He is also forging alliances among small service providers, the middle classes of Goa, and local governments to spur a citizens' movement that will promote responsible tourism.

The New Idea

Roland's idea is based on the belief that tourism should respect the rights of local communities and be a strong force in providing livelihoods for them. In Goa, 20 percent of the local population earns income directly through tourism, and many more people depend on the industry indirectly. However, less than 15 percent of the state's annual tourism revenue feeds back into the local economy. Roland is organizing small service providers into professional trade associations that will allow them to pool collective strategies, professionalize their services, and build visibility as a united trade group. Members will unite to understand the local and large-scale operations of tourism, build better access to capital, upgrade their business skills, and create marketing vehicles to maintain customer bases and capture new ones. More importantly, the trade associations will give them the bargaining power they need to work with local governments, lobby for beneficial trade regulations, and oppose policies that threaten not only their businesses, but also Goa's unique texture of life, culture, and environment that is the main reason that tourists travel there.While his clients, the small service providers, develop strong trade bases, Roland will build the "social infrastructure" needed to secure broad citizen support for them. Since these local service providers are rooted in their communities, he will try to educate different parts of society, specifically middle class consumers, the consumer rights movement, and local governments. Because tourism affects local populations, governance, and consumption patterns, he hopes to make all these groups aware of the importance of responsible tourism policies and practices. After consolidating his idea's development in Goa, Roland plans to launch an India-wide movement to spread his model to other tourist destinations where the government has begun erecting tourism zones. He aims to connect with like-minded groups and civil society organizations across Southeast Asia, where there have been similar problems caused by tourism. Ultimately, Roland hopes to forge a "South-South" alliance of small service providers and international practitioners involved in tourism to exchange expertise, experiences, and solutions.

The Problem

In the early 1960s, Goa attracted young people from Europe and America and quickly became an international destination for young, bohemian travelers. At that time tourism was an unstructured activity without government intervention. By the mid-1980s, the state had begun attracting Indian and international "mainstream," high-spending tourists. In 1987, the Indian government issued a plan to turn Goa into a tourist state. Thereafter, investments from Indian and international businesses took over tourism in Goa. They converted large areas into tourism zones, in the process threatening fragile ecologies and disenfranchising residents from their lands and rivers.Tourism has changed the profile of Goa. The local population of the state is 1,400,000 followed closely by a tourist population of 1,200,000. Five percent of the tourist population resides and runs core tourism services in Goa. The World Trade Organization Report indicates that in the year 2000, Goa will receive more than eight million tourists, with sixteen thousand visiting the state every week. Creating the infrastructure to accommodate this growing population has led to serious land development rackets such as illegal time-share and rent-back apartments, denial of basic civic facilities for inhabitants such as a drinking water supply, and black-market trafficking in narcotics, arms, and sex. The government has failed to provide strong economic arguments for investing more in tourism in Goa. Mining, not tourism, is the largest economic activity in the state, bringing in more than four hundred fifty million rupees every year. Even higher (six hundred million rupees) is the value of foreign exchange sent home by Goans employed in the Middle East.Citizen movements against the pitfalls of tourism have been sporadic in Goa. In the larger national context, civil society organizations have focused on research and armchair advocacy to make tourism in the country responsible.

The Strategy

The launch vehicle for Roland's new idea will be the GOADESC, a tourism resource center. It will source, repackage and distribute information, training, and contacts to local initiatives and movements that address a range of tourism issues. The center will also train apprentices who wish to specialize in the field. Roland has identified four constituent groups of small service providers in Goa who could use the services of GOADESC. Their trades are the most threatened by large businesses and government complicity. These groups are: vendors of food and beverage services in beach line shacks that they own; families that run small hotels; taxi and motorbike operators who form the backbone of surface transport; and the union of local workers in large hotels who have little knowledge of how their trade works and their potential stake in it.For the first year of the resource center, Roland has two main goals: train a core team of tourism rights professionals; and create a database of potential local, national, and international allies for his ideas. The database will be fed largely by resource people, civil society organizations, policy makers, travel writers, international tourism networks, and lawyers. Supported by an organizational base and trained colleagues, Roland will then focus on his core clients–the 150,000 small service providers.Over two off-seasons (during the five-month monsoon periods when tourism closes down in Goa), GOADESC plans to engage the four constituent groups in tourism in consultations, debates, and collective decisions on the need for, and the form and processes of, trade associations; organize a referral base of professionals and offer demand-driven training and consultancies in areas where tourism businesses need to build expertise quickly (including law, finance, accounting, business management, marketing, and the media); and invest intensively in information and professional support until the trade associations become registered and formalized. Roland envisions every trade association developing its own professional brand identity, marketing tools and brochures, media spokespeople, representatives in local governments, credit cooperatives, medical back-up systems, and lifeguard systems (for those operating on the coastline). In the long-term, he hopes to create visibility and space for them in national and international tourism events, especially international tourism fairs and trade fairs. In order to build civil society support and open political doors for these trade associations, Roland will also broker active partnerships between them and a broad-based citizen-led consumer movement already created by GOADESC–the Consumers' and Residents' Forum. The Forum's purpose is to ally the interests and concerns of all consumers in an area and to help them position their consumer rights affected by tourism. It also tries to respond to the multiple fractures that tourism has created in their society and culture such as land development conflicts, the increasing influence of drugs and alcohol on the youth of Goa, and the mounting problem of solid waste management. The Forum has set up eight local consumer committees across Goa that are beginning to broker dialogue with the local governing council, or panchayat, on these issues. Roland has also used his membership in the government-driven State Consumer Council to integrate six of the eight committees into the Council. He sees the consumer movement as a strong tool to integrate tourism consciousness into Goa's local governing systems. As the trade associations acquire autonomy, GOADESC will market the experience both internationally and within the country through a communications program. Armed with years of international experience and contacts in both "sending countries" (for example: France, the UK, Belgium, and Germany) and countries that are having to cope with reckless tourism (Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines), Roland is keen on collaborating with other small service providers that have created their own structures to compete in a difficult, changing economy. After four years, Roland plans to launch the second phase of his idea, the National Debate on Tourism Issues, which will have three aims: build tourism through ongoing national debates, especially on gender rights, human rights, and environmental protection; train and support partners to replicate the Goa model in other states with heavy tourist inflow, such as Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh; and invite groups from South Asia to Goa to learn and exchange ideas. Roland hopes that this third effort will be the start of a "South-South alliance" of small-scale tourism providers.

The Person

Roland grew up in Panjim, the capital of Goa, at a time when progressive cultural mores were pervading the state. His father ran a workshop that repaired mining equipment. His mother was deeply involved in charity and social work. While still a teenager, Roland joined the progressive students' movement in Goa, an experience that radically changed his worldview. The movement had much in common with the youth movements in Europe and the United States in the 1960s. It demanded rights for students within Goa and healthier learning systems. Inspired by the movement, Roland established the Progressive Students Union, an apolitical student association with strong affiliations with students at Bombay University. Through debate, it encouraged local communities to launch their own movements around development issues. In 1987, when the government announced a plan to convert Goa into a tourism state, Roland quit the Union and established the Jagrut Goa Fauz, a group of activists for gender rights, consumer rights, and the environment. Working with communities across the coastline of Goa, the JGF launched successful people's movements against irresponsible local tourism plans. Often, these plans were hatched by international businesses with little stake in the social and environmental costs that would be borne by Goans. The JGF lobbied political bodies in the interest of the Goan citizenry. For example, when the Kempinsky Group of Germany decided to construct an artificial lagoon in an ecologically fragile coastal stretch of South Goa, JGF worked with the German Green Party and got the plan shelved. JGF was essentially a reactive body, however. Roland realized the need to work in a more sustained, proactive way on tourism in Goa. In 1992, he dismantled the bookshop that he ran for his livelihood and set up GOADESC, a one-stop information center that would, Roland said, "equip people like my father to get up and do something about positive social changes in his society." At that time GOADESC sparked and supported local movements in Goa, documented them, and shared them. In 1997, Roland spun-off another organization, the first ever Shackowners Association of Goa, in response to a political scam over licensing of shack-owning vendors. The organization drew significant international attention.