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The Playboy Game!

For the uninitiated, Playboy is synonymous with adult-entertainment across the globe. From magazines it evolved into night-clubs for those socialites that prefer to have the night-club experience with a dash of adult-entertainment and titillation. The Playboy Bunnies are an attraction and have been brand-positioned as an attraction of the sexy-kind. The Playboy Bunnies are mostly very attractive young women dressed provocatively to titillate. To people in certain parts of the world and in advanced tourism markets such novelties are a major attraction for night-life. Comparing the Playboy Club to the night-clubs in the Bangkok Pat Pong area will be saying that the Maruti Esteem is comparable to a BMW. They are meant to do the same thing which is get a person from one place to another, but they are a class apart. So it is with a Playboy Club and a sleaze night-club; they are a class apart but their business is the same adult-entertainment.

While a Playboy Club might be considered normal in the West. It certainly merits a serious debate about its venture into the Indian market and in particular its selection of Goa as its first launch venue.

Playboy Club India has so far categorically stated that it would respect the culture and tradition, tone down the titillation factor of their Playboy Bunnies, and instead of them being scantily dressed, they would be attired with an Indian acceptable dress-code. Their appeal appears to be focusing on the fact that they are a food & beverage outlet and the added attraction of Playboy Bunnies is merely a draw factor which will be suited for the Indian sense-buds. Just like MacDonald’s introducing products to suit the Indian taste-buds.

Let’s for a while give the promoters of Playboy Club the benefit of the doubt that they are positioned as night-club cum food & beverage outlet; we cannot overlook the fact that they suffer from the curse of their own brand positioning – that of an adult-entertainment night club. So as many have been advocating on online forums that we could be able to draw many international tourists, let’s not be blind to the fact that these tourists are expecting the ‘Playboy Club’ to be similar, if not a better Playboy experience especially with the bunnies. It is for this very reason that Playboy Clubs never win food & beverage outlet awards, because that has never been their core focus. Just like Hard Rock Cafe, people go to HRC for good music and good food, but the brand positioning is music, LIVE music acts in particular.

Will a Playboy Club draw domestic and foreign tourist? That is without a doubt, people are always attracted to novel concepts, especially such concepts that would have women in a desired avatar if not scantily dressed. Voyeurism is often a draw factor. It is a reason most massage parlors are a success in any state in India or for that matter Dance Bars (which are claimed to be illegal but still exists). Men will always gravitate to such entertainment or past times. Playboy Club will be a success undoubtedly.

The question that we as Goans must however answer is simple. Do we need Playboy Club or not? There are definitely positives to it from a business point of view. But there are also negatives. And the negatives besides touching the roots of our tradition and culture, also leads to us question a very important aspect of our tourism sector positioning in the global marketplace.

Having traveled to many places across the world and also having attended a few tourism marts, international tourists are always in awe about Goa. It is perceived in a nutshell to be a ‘Paradise’ – a place where serenity coupled with hospitality is worth an exploration. However, in every paradise, you can expect an element of sin. So Goa too in its tourism evolution over the years had its fair share of sin – drugs and booze, now of course you can add sex to it. But the image Goa tourism has managed to get for itself over the last ten years, has literally positioned itself as the Bangkok of the sub-continent. Some of it has been because of drastic drop in the quality of international tourists, we have lost out on the Danish, Polish, Germans, Finish and British tourists, and we have settled for the Russian tourists (who prefer to be clanish and cloistered in their own space and sometimes questionable activities). But most of the sex, booze and new age drugs has been because of the demand of the domestic traveler, who also see Goa as a paradise – a sinful paradise, where you let your hair and pants down. It certainly adding to the tourism revenues but at what cost of an image beating.

People in the business of hospitality and entertainment will always make money in Goa, because it is the entertainment and party capital of India (especially the trendy entertainment – Sunburn-like events, Night Bazaars). That’s why the promoters of Playboy Club have selected Goa over Kerala or Rajasthan from a tourism destination point of view, simple because no other tourism destination in India is viewed as a party capital. And that is the new view of Goa – a party place, at least that is what many in the tourism-business would like to position Goa as, notice that we are slowly shifting from ‘Paradise’ to ‘Party Place’.

You must also not forget that besides the appeal and added value that Goa brings to such concepts, we are also a liberal society, who will accept these concepts as long as it does not bother us. I am quite confident that a launch of a Playboy Club in Mumbai, Delhi or Bangalore would witness stiff opposition.

In tourism business growth, many people compare Goa and Kerala. But why is it that Kerala refuses to ape some other tourism countries in such matters such a Playboy Clubs or Rave Parties or Rock Shows or Party Capital Tag (I would like to call them man-made saleable concepts). The answer is simple, they always wanted to retain the identity of their tourism and culture. That is what makes Kerala unique. They take simple concepts such as the mosquito-infested backwaters and turn it into a natural globally saleable concept. Their tourism is blended into their respect for the natural beauty rather than man-made creations. They promote their nature, environment, tradition and culture. Their Ayurveda concept has gained global recognition.

The problem I see in Goa and our tourism focus, is that we want to be like another tourism destination, sometimes its Singapore, sometimes its Malaysia and like right now we would be edging closer to Bangkok, in the way that we are going. But we don’t want to be ‘Goa’. Our identity is getting convoluted and confused.

Keep Goa, Goa. People flocked to Goa for the place and the people. We should live the Goa dream and not someone else’s dream, who only sees Goa as a milking cow by turning it into a sin city. Kerala is a striking example of staying true to your identity for tourism to succeed. Keep our uniqueness and culture intact.

If Playboy Club is allowed from a revenue point of view. Then should not also dance bars be allowed. The girls in the dance bars also do the same thing; wear titillating outfits, gyrate a little and serve liquor, and Goa could earn revenue in that as well. In fact, Calangute had 15 of them, which were shut-down when this new BJP-government had come into place, courtesy of its MLA Michael Lobo.

Lobo stance on Playboy Club is interesting. And I would not like to accept the hearsay that is going around that he is doing all this because former Congress MLA Agnelo Fernandes has got a stake in the Playboy Club or that he wants to extort his pound of flesh from the promoters (though if someone told me it was the Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar I would accept that hearsay to be true. He did burn a hole in the Sunburn organizers pocket and that is known by many in the business and political circles). According to him, Playboy Club represents a ‘Glorified Dance Bar’ and quite frankly it is an ‘Upmarket Adult-Entertainment Outlet’ for better understanding and comparison you could call it a Dance Bar like a Night Lover, Deepa or Pinky in Mumbai. But the problem what he would face is what happens if his government decides to go ahead with the clearance for Playboy Club to come to Goa. Will he then hold true to his conviction or fall under political compulsions.

The tourism minister Dilip Parulekar too is in a fix because he (according to sources) has already committed in principle to the promoters that Playboy Club would get its clearance, whether any considerations has exchanged hands or not, is not known or confirmed. So if the CM decides no to Playboy Club, then the tourism minister will be in a sticky situation, especially, if considerations have been exchanged.

The Chief Minister of course is caught between his two colleagues, both equally valuable to him, in the current schemes of thing. Though I am told, by sources close to him, that he is not necessarily in favor of a Playboy Club for Goa.

For the people of Goa, the choice of course is not political, it has to be practical. We need to decide whether we need concepts such as Playboy Clubs to take Goa to new frontiers in tourism.

My personal opinion. Goa is yet an evolving tourism destination. Tourism came to Goa because of its natural prowess and its hospitable and charming people. I think we need to never lose sight of our strengths. We should not hide behind a mask no matter how attractive the mask looks. And concepts like Playboy Clubs are masks to the true beauty and identity of Goa, its people and its tourism. Every paradise has an element of sin, but people should remember the paradise and not the element of sin.

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