Poovar beach and backwaters all set for a new wave 

To explore the tourism potential, the authorities are planning to prepare a detailed master plan, a vision document for the development of the destination for the next 10 years.
Poovar beach and backwaters. (Photo | B P Deepu)
Poovar beach and backwaters. (Photo | B P Deepu)

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:  Poovar’s pristine beach and tranquil backwaters  a trending destination with immense tourism potential will soon be raised to international standards with the District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC) gearing up to make it a planned boating destination. 

Located on the southern tip of the state, the enchanting visuals of Poovar, known for estuaries, mangroves and the lake trailing through fishing villages, is already trending on social media and drawing tourists from across the globe. However, the lack of amenities, unorganised boating activities and growing complaints of fleecing by private parties for boat rides are becoming a major concern. 

Despite the steady flow of tourists, the tourism department has failed to provide even basic amenities, including toilet blocks, cafeteria or seating arrangements, for tourists. On average during weekends and tourism season, around 5,000 people visit the spot, and on normal days, a minimum of over 1,000 people reach the destination for boating activities. Currently, 30 to 35 private boat clubs and individuals are operating around 300 boats in the Poovar backwaters. 

Growing complaints from visitors about private parties charging exorbitant fees for boats have prompted the tourism authorities to step in. As part of its effort to curb fleecing and legalising boat operations, the DTPC is gearing up to implement a standard operating protocol (SOP) for boat operations at the destination soon. 

After several rounds of discussions with the stakeholders, the DTPC will soon implement the SOP. Taking note of complaints, the DTPC is gearing up to introduce a unified ticketing system to curb fleecing. 

“This is just a first step and we want to streamline the tourism activities at the destination. Many boat clubs are providing boating services to visitors on a commission basis and this is leading to fleecing. These boat clubs are luring visitors with the help of taxi drivers and other mediators. There had been instances when these operators charged Rs 9,000 or Rs 10,000 for one-hour boating. Some of the individual boat operators are providing this service at Rs 700 per hour. This is bad for tourism and we want to put an end to this,” said a DTPC official.

He added that the DTPC was not planning to introduce boating at Poovar but steps will be taken to authorise all tourism operations happening right now.

“We will introduce an online registration for these operators and all bookings for boating will be done by the DTPC,” the official said. 

As per the new SOP, the operators should get their boats registered in accordance with the Kerala Inland Vessel Rules and should have information displays, life jackets, fire fighting gear, emergency action plans, and post-trip inspections. 

The decision to legalise the boat operators was taken in the aftermath of the recent boat tragedy at Tanur which claimed several lives. “For getting registration, all documents relating to the boat should be up to date and if the operator fails to produce them they will not be allowed to operate the boats.

Also if any of the documents expire, the operator will be alerted. We are giving this top priority as the safety of the visitors is the key. We need to provide a safe experience for the tourists and they should not feel cheated and return with bad reviews which would adversely impact the tourism activities at Poovar,” said the official. 

Boat operators are not on the same page

“We cannot agree with the new ticketing system as it will sabotage our business,” said Navoj S R, president, Poovar Backwaters and Tourism Promoting Society. 

“We are doing a lot of marketing to bring tourists here and include Poovar in their itinerary. We have to pay a commission for drivers and parties bringing these tourists here. I set up this boat club several years ago and bought land for providing all basic amenities for tourists and now the DTPC is asking to reduce the number of boat clubs and bring down the operation points to six. We have invested so much in this business and hundreds of workers are depending on this for survival.” 

Currently, there are 33 properties from where boat services are being operated. The DTPC is planning to standardise the boating fees and as per the proposed rates, Rs 2,500 for 1 hour of boating during weekdays and Rs 3,000 during weekends, and Rs 3,500 during the peak season. 

“The authorities have asked to reduce the number of properties to six so that they can set up ticket counters and the rides will be equally distributed among the operators. This is unfair,” he said. 

The DTPC official said that luring guests on a commission basis is not real marketing. “There should be a system in place to avoid exploitation and we are just a facilitator making efforts to improve the situation for both stakeholders and tourists,” said the official. 

A joint club formed by trade unions at Poovar is offering boat rides at Rs 700 for the visitors. “There is no safety as these operations are happening illegally. Boating was introduced around 15 years ago and a section of the boats doesn’t have proper registrations. Following complaints, around four years ago the police put up signages displaying the rates but many of the operators hide this and charge more,” said Attupuram Vijayan, district secretary, Boat Drivers and Workers Union. 

Masterplan to boost tourism and local economy

To explore the tourism potential, the authorities are planning to prepare a detailed master plan, a vision document for the development of the destination for the next 10 years.

“Right now we will focus on legalising tourism activities, especially boating. In the next phase, we will take steps to provide more amenities to tourists,” said a DTPC official. DTPC recently held a meeting with the district administration and panchayat authorities for scaling up infrastructure.

“We need land for providing amenities to tourists and we have given a letter to the panchayat authorities to find suitable land for the purpose. A master plan will be prepared,” said the official. The official said the destination has great potential for STREET (Sustainable, Tangible, Responsible, Experiential, Ethnic, Tourism), an initiative of Kerala Tourism.

“The place is rich with biodiversity and has rich marine life. We will be developing the destination giving top priority to conservation. The visitors will get to explore all these biodiversities with proper guidance,” said the official. Floating cafeterias and shops trading locally-made handicraft items can also be explored.

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