THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Covid pandemic and subsequent lockdown have brought the tourism industry to a standstill. For Kerala, a state which thrives on tourism, this was a heavy blow. Though the government order allowing hotels and resorts to open from June 8 was meant to bring some relief to the sector, a very few establishments in the district have resumed operations. The hospitality industry is expecting a dull season ahead, as the number of Covid-19 positive cases are on the rise.
The tourism industry was already suffering after consecutive floods in 2018 and 2019, and the Nipah virus outbreak. Nevertheless, in 2019, the state recorded the highest number of domestic and international tourists in the last 24 years. Thiruvananthapuram earned a total revenue of Rs 8700.12 crore last year exclusively from the tourism sector and was aiming higher this year. March and April usually witness the arrival of domestic tourists to the state, and the season brought zero returns this year.
Estuary Sarovar Portico, a 5-star resort on Poovar Island, has resumed operations and is now accepting online bookings. “We received around three bookings for July. Training programmes for the staff are under way at the resort,” says Ayyappan Kutty, general manager. According to him, a majority of the resorts are not opening since the bookings are low and they fear another positive Covid-19 case may lead to total shutdown of the property.
Estuary has slashed room rates by 40-50 per cent to attract customers. “This year, every hotel or resort is going to have to focus more on luring regional customers. We have introduced a special one-night package for families inclusive of breakfast. If guests opt for extended stay, we will make arrangements like mangrove boating, and sessions on immunity and health from our ayurveda team and chef. Rather than focusing on profit, hotels will try to break even, and make enough to do maintenance and pay salaries this year,” adds Ayyappan.
Industry experts claim that the tourism sector will take at least two or three months to get back on its feet. The majority of the hotels remain closed in Kovalam, which is a hotspot for both domestic and international tourists. Turtle on the Beach, a 5-star hotel in Kovalam, has started taking bookings from this week. “We have received two bookings currently. However, I believe the numbers will be low till August. Even the resorts that open may have to shut down due to this. But we have to open and run to be able to pay our staff,” says Soby George, general manager.
He asserts that they need at least 20 per cent occupancy to run the hotel. The room rates have been cut by 15-20 per cent to attract more bookings. “We are already facing a heavy loss. Since the guests coming in have little option to travel around, they will be spending most of their time in their rooms and hotel premises. We have equipped our rooms with sanitisers. As corporate meetings and destination weddings are unlikely, slashing the rates and introducing budget-friendly packages are the only way to sustain,” adds Soby.
Varkala, commonly referred to as ‘mini Goa’ by tourists, is famous for its cliff resorts and homestays. Many hotels and resorts in the area were converted into quarantine centres, fetching them little profit during the lockdown. The other establishments would remain closed despite the relaxation in lockdown restrictions. “The expenditure including salary, electricity, and maintenance comes to a huge amount. Even if we resume operations, we will be forced to function with just two or three guests for the weekend, which is not practical. Slashing the room rates is also not possible. This year, we only expect to have regional travelers, and will reopen only after the outbreak has been fully contained,” says Jithin Raj, general manager, Akhil Group of Hotels and Resorts, with seven properties in Varkala.
A tricky situation
According to G Sudhiesh Kumar, patron, Kerala Hotel and Restaurant Association (KHRA), the revival of tourism in the district will take time. “Roads are empty after 6pm. People have become reluctant to get out of their homes now. This should change first,” he says. Hospitality establishments are facing acute staff shortage after migrant labourers returned to their states.
“Any property needs a good amount of staff to run it. That itself increases expenditure, apart from basic necessities like water and power,” he adds. According to him, many foreigners who love Kovalam have promised to return this year too. “However, this depends on the state of affairs in their home country too. If they don’t get travel insurance, no one will travel to Kerala. The only scope is to focus on regional tourism. But then again, with the expats losing jobs and coming home, even domestic travellers would have little to spend,” he says.