THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Though it is too early to assess the impact of the LDF Government’s liberal liquor policy on the state’s tourism sector, the industry as a whole is upbeat and expects a robust tourist season this year. After curbs were imposed on the availability of liquor by the previous UDF Government, the Meetings, Incentives Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) sector took a huge blow. The sector witnessed a slew of cancellations with visitors choosing alternative destinations such as Goa and Sri Lanka.
According to official statistics, the MICE sector registered a negative growth rate for the first time in 2015, a year after 730 liquor bars were closed down. The impact on MICE sector had major ramifications on the business of hotels and resorts too as over 70 per cent of them had conference facilities. The emergence of rival destinations also contributed to the slump in the MICE sector. After the Russian Rouble devaluation in 2014, Goa - the prime destination of Russian tourists - began to focus more on the domestic tourists. They offered huge discounts and tapped into a large chunk of the MICE market. The non-availability of liquor in Kerala made many MICE organisers skip the state.
“Stakeholders in the tourism industry have told us that a positive change is visible. Of course, we cannot expect a drastic change in a matter of a few weeks. It is true that a large number of tourists deserted our prime destinations. We are hopeful of bringing them back,” Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran told Express.Tourism Department officials point out, though there has been an increase in the number of tourist arrivals when compared to the previous years, the rate of growth had not kept pace. The growth rate in tourist arrivals, which was around 11 per cent a few years ago, dipped to five per cent after curbs on liquor were imposed.
MICE Sector Hopeful
“The actual impact on the ground will be known a little later as MICE is a sector where planning happens six months to one year in advance. But we are seeing a positive trend as the number of enquiries and advance bookings have increased over the last two to three months,” said Raju Kannampuzha, MD of Executive Events and General Secretary of Event Management Association - Kerala (EMAK).
The deadline for serving liquor during MICE events, which has now been extended till 11 pm, has also been welcomed by the industry stakeholders. “The participants of many international conferences, which run late into the night, would want to relax and unwind after the hectic schedule. The non-availability of liquor after 9.30 pm did prove a dampener for the organisers,” admits Madhu S Karayat, Managing Director of Moondays, a leading name in the state’s travel and tour industry.
Growth In F&B Sector
However, the impact on the food and beverages sector has been immediate after the LDF Government relaxed the liquor rules, say industry representatives. “The food and beverages business has nearly doubled after the new liquor policy was announced. The occupancy in hotels has also improved significantly. We look forward to a very vibrant tourist season,” said Sudhiesh Kumar, Patron of Kerala Hotel and Restaurant Association (KHRA), the apex organisation for the state’s hospitality industry.
Stakeholders in the tourism industry have told us that a positive change is visible. Of course, we cannot expect a drastic change in a matter of a few weeks. It is true that a large number of tourists deserted our prime destinations. We are hopeful of bringing them back Kadakampally Surendran, Tourism Minister