THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The lockdown affected the tourism industry badly. However, even after the government lifted a lot of restrictions, the industry is yet to pick up pace. Homestay business, which is a livelihood for many in areas like Kovalam and Varkala, is the worst hit with owners landing in a fix as their future looks bleak.Most homestays in the district are run by elderly people. Hence, they are afraid to take in guests due to fear of the pandemic. “Though the government allowed all homestays to open from June 8, it came with conditions like all hotels and homestays should have thermal scanner and should only accommodate one guest per room. In the current situation, homestay owners can’t even afford thermal scanners,” said M P Sivadathan, director, Kerala State Homestay and Tourism Society (Kerala HATS).
There are around 50 homestays with classification certificates in the district and many more that operate with the consent of the respective local body, according to Kerala HATS. Devotees and tourists form majority of the guests in non-classified homestays. Hence, homestays without classification certificate depend entirely on this revenue.
Ganesh House Homestay, run by Manoj M P, is one of the most popular homestays in Kovalam. Manoj has been awaiting guests from April. “The homestay was started by my parents as a source of income during their retirement life. During peak season, we make a profit of `30,000 per month. Though many enquiries have been coming, we are scared to take any bookings. If a guest is infected, the entire family will have to go under quarantine, forcing the homestay to shut down too.
Many foreigners who visit Kovalam every year are ready to come back if flight services restart and they are provided with travel insurance. If the outbreak is not contained soon, several owners will have to migrate to other businesses,” said Manoj.Rita Madhukumar, who runs Rita’s Homestay in Varkala, said they too are not taking any bookings. “The number of Covid positive cases are going up daily. Also, most enquiries we get are from tourists within the state. I believe there will be no tourism season this year,” she said.
Sivadathan said that homestay owners will have a tough season this year. “Even if homestays start taking bookings, neighbours may raise issues due to fear of the pandemic. We can only sustain if the government supports us. Almost 10 per cent of the state’s total income comes from tourism sector. Hence, the government should act to sustain it. Even autorickshaw drivers, cab services and small shops depend on the tourism sector. The government should give long-term interest-free loans to homestay owners to revive their livelihood,” he said.