As curbs ease, Kerala’s tourist hubs come back to life after long lull
Sprawling swimming pools have turned into fish farms and swanky houseboats now serve as Covid-19 hospitals and supermarkets to tide over the pandemic crisis. But tourism slowly seems to be bouncing back to life in Kerala, one of the major tourist destinations of the country. Two consecutive floods had punched many holes in the tourism sector and it was expecting a boom but the outbreak dashed out its hopes.
As the situation improved slightly, people are longing to step out of their houses and tour operators feel the worst is almost over. Many resorts and hotels have put up big boards to announce discounts and special packages and they are in a race to attract ‘desi’ tourists since foreigners are passé now. They all pinned much hope on the vaccine and admit things will settle only after a few shots were administered.
“After the lockdown, our revenue came to a halt. We have a big pool spread over more than half acre. So we deposited 16,000 two-month-old pearl spot fish in June. Next month, we are planning to harvest and we expect four tone catch,” said general manager of Aveda resorts Jyotish Surendran in Kumarakom in Kottayam district.
He said in new normal, everyone will have to explore fresh ways to sustain and pandemic has taught them many lessons.
In famous beach destination Kovalam, 16 kilometres away from the state capital, fishermen are removing their catamarans berthed on beaches to make way for sunbath and some hotels and resorts are busy giving a fresh coat of paint to remain in the reckoning after a long gestation. Beaches, backwaters and hill stations are open now in the state but dotting rejuvenation joints and spas will have to wait.
“We had 62 employees but now the numbers are less than a dozen. Initially, we ensured half payment to them but when the situation prolonged we asked them to go back. We will call them once the situation improves,” said G Sudhiesh Kumar, CEO of Hotel Sea Face, one of the oldest seaside resorts on Kovalam beach. He said the situation will normalise only by next year. Usually, August to December is the peak tourism season in Kerala.
According to the tourism ministry, the state had a footfall of 1.96 crore tourists last year - 1,83,84,233 domestic and 11,89,771 from abroad. The total revenue was Rs 45,010.69 crore in 2019. The outbreak began when the state was eying 8 to 10 per cent hike in footfall. Many had invested heavily sensing good growth. Tourism accounts for roughly 40 per cent of the revenue of the state’s service sector. One in every eight jobs is directly or indirectly linked to the sector in the state. After Gulf remittances, tourism keeps the state ticking.
“I have 60 seats in my small hotel. During weekends, at least half will be full. We have to concentrate more on domestic tourists. We suffered a big jolt, the tourism sector will have to reinvigorate itself to remain in the reckoning,” said Benedict Wilfred, owner of Beatles in Kovalam. Wilfred has been in the hotel profession for more than 25 years.
People like him feel that it is time to inject more professionalism and responsibility in the sector and all should treat it as a fresh beginning leaving behind bitter memories. “There are big announcements but they are not reaching the ground. Banks are not ready to lend asking how will you payback. We are hoping against the hope that dark clouds will disappear soon,” said Wilfred. He said people are caged all these days and pent up hunger for travel will open new vistas.
“In normal time, our tariff for backwater front cottages starts from Rs 8,000 to 15,000. But now we are giving it from Rs 4,500 to 8,000. It is a new technique to survive in bad times. The situation is really bad and we need tax exemptions and other perks to keep the hearth burning,” said S Jayakumar, GM of Poovar Island Resorts, a high-end property on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram. He said the long pause brought in by the pandemic has offered busy destinations a much-needed breather and an opportunity to look back and take more responsible steps.
“Every two months we would go out for unwinding sessions but we were forced to discontinue since March. Travel is the best way to challenge oneself and learn better things in life. Besides relaxing and rejuvenating, it cements relationship also,” said a techie couple from Bengaluru who are out for their second outing in Poovar after Kodagu in south Karnataka last month.
“Hospitality is a resilient sector. Once travellers regain confidence, bouncing back will be quicker and faster. Some of the unnecessary curbs will have to go and the government and other agencies will take effective steps to bring back confidence,” said EM Najeeb, president of the Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industries, adding that the government will have to ensure help to the small and medium players.