COVID-19 pandemic hits hard Kerala tourism sector

Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala) [India], Mar 15 (ANI): The Kerala tourism industry, which had managed to bounce back last year after Kerala floods recording the highest growth rate in tourist arrivals in 24 years, is now staring at a bleak future owing to COVID-19 global pandemic.

From backwaters in Kottayam-Alappuzha, districts known as the honeymoon destinations, to the serene beaches of Kovalam and Varkala in Thiruvananthapuram -- famed for its Ayurveda treatments -- tourism hotspots are wearing a deserted look with foreign tourists asked to stay indoors by authorities and domestic travellers keeping away amid COVID-19 scare.

"The tourism industry has been really struggling for the past month after COVID-19. We were in the last lap of the season. Bookings were completely cancelled from the first week of March. Resorts are shutting down now," said Ravindranath M, General Manager of Indimasi Healing Village, famous for its inflow of foreign tourists for the traditional Ayurvedic treatments.

"Revenue management will be a big issue for the industry. Loan repayments, statutory payments, salaries, etc., will lead the industry into big trouble. The industry is requesting the government for a grand moratorium for loans for the next six months minimum. It will take more than a year to come back to the normal stage," he said.

According to Manoj Kumar, secretary-general, South Kerala Hoteliers Forum, it would take six months to one year for the tourism industry to revive from COVID-19 impact. "We bounced back from Kerala floods as foreign tourists were willing to travel to Kerala. But the coronavirus outbreak has affected the whole world with travel restrictions in place in many countries. But as of now, we are not evaluating the impact of COVID-19 on the tourism industry. We are supporting the government and health department activities," he said.

"At the same time trying to help the guests who are with us. Right now we are asking the guests to stay in the resort. Till their check out date, we are holding them and giving them all the facilities possible. We are not allowing them to go to the beach or any kind of public contact we are avoiding," added Kumar.

Hotels and resorts here are informing government authorities as soon as foreign guests check-in.

"We put them in quarantine in a hotel for 14 days. The existing bookings that already we have offered are being provided accommodation as European guests book well in advance. But half of them are cancelled. But a few people who have reached in India in other places like Jaipur or Agra they tend to come down. The association and all hoteliers are informing the health and tourism department to avoid any confusion," said Manoj.

When major industry players in the tourism industry hit hard, it is also passed on to the lower rug. Many shops that sell artefacts and clothes are shut in Kovalam as there is no business.

Aji, a crafts shop owner at Kovalam beach, said that there has been no business at all after the restriction imposed in the wake of coronavirus.

"The business is very bad. No people are coming to the beach. Those tourists who have arrived here are staying indoors. I'm planning to shut down shop for a few days," he said.

Kerala had attracted around 1.96 crore domestic and foreign visitors in 2019, registering a healthy growth of 17.2 per cent as compared to the figures in the previous year affected with floods. But now, this is going to change. The total earnings from tourism stood at Rs 45,010.69 crore, notching a robust 24.14 per cent increase but with COVID-19 aftermath this is estimated to come down drastically. (ANI)