Omicron Scare: Kerala tourism sector in dire straits
Global travel ban and related restrictions imposed in the wake of spurt in Covid cases dash hopes of Kerala's tourism sector yet again
KOCHI: After suffering huge losses in the past three years, the tourism sector had started limping back to normalcy in December 2021 when destinations reopened, and started receiving domestic and international tourists. The sector is back to square one now due to increase in Covid cases. More than 1,000 small, medium and large tour operators, homestays and hotels have stopped functioning due to the spread of Omicron and subsequent restrictions.
“More than 60% of the homestays in the state remain shut. Few others who have been functioning are struggling to meet their expenses including rent. Several foreign nations have imposed a travel ban, making things worse,” said Kerala Homestay and Tourism Society director Sivadathan M P.
Sivadathan, also a member of the State Tourism Advisory Committee, said the focus of late has been on domestic tourists as international flights were restricted.
“In December, during the holidays, special offers and packages were introduced to attract domestic tourists. But once the travel restrictions were in place, many people cancelled their trips. Unless the government steps in, it will be hard for the sector to survive,” he said. Fort Kochi and Mattanchery, the prime tourist destinations in the state, have been bearing the brunt. Tour operators and property managers are in peril.
Sajith Saj of Saj Homestay said Fort Kochi has been thriving on international tourists all these years.
“For the past two years, we barely have had any international tourists. Those who had planned to travel are facing visa restrictions now and are cancelling their bookings. Though we had a decent flow of domestic passengers, that too has stopped now. It’s difficult for the sector as uncertainty is looming,” he said.
Homestay owners in Kovalam and Varkala are also in dire straits.
“The beaches are deserted and there are hardly any tourists. Though business was improving towards the end of 2021, Omicron has once again spelt doom for us. With no tourist inflow, we are forced to keep the homestay facilities closed. The dilapidated condition of the tourist spots like Kovalam due to frequent sea erosion has also led to a fall in the number of tourists,” said a homestay owner. The houseboats and resorts in Alappuzha are also staring at a bleak future.
Tourists discouraged to travel
E M Najeeb, chairman of Air Travel Enterprises, a leading tour operator, said the sudden restrictions imposed due to Omicron spread came as a blow. “We mainly depend on foreign tourists for our business.We were reviving the industry slowly after suffering a loss of more than Rs 45,000 crore over the past three years. The sudden announcement of restrictions brought at the end of December upset all our plans. We have already approached the Union and state governments to urge them to take steps to support the industry,” he said.
Tour operators also believe the restrictions are discouraging foreign tourists from travelling. “Most foreign tourists who had made bookings for the coming months have cancelled them. Instead, they are heading to places like the Maldives and Sri Lanka, saying there are no restrictions there,” said Saji Nanukuttan of Shiva’s Tours and Travels, Kovalam.
Nizam A of ANM Tours and Travels Pvt Ltd said they had many bookings till March for weddings and other destination gatherings, but the restriction on the number of guests at weddings has caused mass cancellations. “Our buses hit the road in December 2021 after remaining idle for almost two years. Just when the business was getting back to normal, the sudden restrictions put brakes on our plans,” he said.
What ails the state’s tourism prospects
While lack of foreign tourists and rising test positivity rate scare off domestic tourists from the beaches of Kochi, the sea shores of the capital are facing the threat of sea erosion. House boats and resorts in Alappuzha are also struggling to survive.