KOCHI: The blustering rumblings of the Gaza carnage have taken an unprecedented toll on the tourism industry with a tangible dip in the number of pilgrims making the holy trip to Israel and other Biblical places from the state.
Travel agents across the state said that the tourism industry has taken a beating as the number of pilgrims going to the Holy Land has decreased sharply compared to previous years.
The sheer scale of business done by the travel agents is mind-boggling. A substantial fall in pilgrimage this year has sent shivers down the spines of the agents who vie with each other to grab a share of the whopping Rs120-crore market.
Over 15,000 devout Christians make the annual pilgrimage from the state at over Rs 80,000 overhead cost per person. According to Jose Sleeba Kattumangattu, director of Royal Omania Tours and Travels which conducts Holy Land pilgrimage every month, the ripples of the crisis in Gaza have taken a toll on their average annual turnover.
“Normally, June-July season is considered to be lean as the weather is not favourable to the tourists. However, during last season we had conducted five trips, but this time we could arrange only four as the booking orders were comparatively less. Though we have received several group bookings for the next season starting September, many of them may change their mind if the violence in the region fails to die down,” he said. He, however, said the pilgrims who returned after the Holy Land trip recently didn’t complain of any untoward incidents during the tour.
Some tour operators are reluctant to take up the trips, citing risk factor, and are waiting for the crisis to end. George Kappen, partner of Oasis Holidays having offices across South India, had the same fear.
“It is true that people are not willing to take a trip now, which is evident from the increasing number of cancellations. We have postponed almost all our trips to the next season,” George said.
“We don’t prefer taking pilgrims to a strife-torn area. Let the tension there subside. It’s better to postpone the travel plans to the next season (September-October). Though the tourists are not the ones being targeted, it is up to the pilgrims to decide whether to travel to these places now,” said Sam Joykutty, managing director of Gusto Holidays, which has offices in Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Pathanamthitta.
ITL Holidays general manager Abraham Joseph said most people are not willing to take a chance and go on a pilgrim tour. “A group of 50 people who were scheduled to leave for Israel on September 19 have cancelled the trip. We hope the situation will taper off by the October- November season,’’ he said. Riya Holidays senior manager Srikanth Gopinath said though there could be cancellations, they were busily chalking out plans for the upcoming pilgrimage tours.
A Catholic priest who has been conducting pilgrim tours for the past few years felt that the ongoing war in the region is a serious humanitarian crisis and hoped that peace will be reinstated soon and, considering the present situation, it is advisable not to undertake pilgrimage to the Holy Land now.