THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The imminent closure of liquor bars in toto in the state, excluding few 5-star hotels, has rattled the Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO).
Expressing ‘ utter shock’ over moves to impose total prohibition without any afterthought on the consequences of it including the implications in the state’s tourism sector, IATO president Subash Goyal has submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Oommen Chandy here pleading for withdrawal of the decision.
Subash Goyal said that the decision not to grant or renew even licences in 3-star and 4-star hotels is not only going to hit the Kerala economy badly, but will also kill tourism industry in the state.
“After a sagging growth in last two years, it was only recently positive trends were shown on a satisfactory tourist inflow to Kerala,” he pointed out. ‘’We are shocked to understand that the State Government has decided to go ahead with measures aimed at total prohibition’’, Subash Goyal said.
Bowling at the same pace,State Tourism Minister A P Anil Kumar told mediapersons here on Thursday that the decision to close down bars is a matter of great concern for the tourism sector and would definitely lead to heavy losses for the sector.
“Liquor is an inalienable part of the tourism sector. The decision will bringdown the flow of foreign tourists into the state,’’ he said. “Notwithstanding the socially beneficial aspects related to the closure of bars, the scenario would lead to a crisis in the state’s tourism front. The tourism sector should be allowed to have avenues for liquor consumption. The government can think of issuing permits to foreign tourists as in vogue in Gujarat,’’ he suggested.
IATO urged Chandy not to implement the new policy. “The policy should not be put into operation in the tourism sector. The sector should be given a boost with a liberal government policy,’’ Subash Goyal demanded. A four-member delegation led by E M Najeeb, president, Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry and National Tourism Advisory Council member, Jose Dominic, NTAC member, Abraham George, president, Kerala Travel Mart, and Mathew Thomas, General Manager, Taj Group of Hotels, presented the memorandum to Chandy. They reminded the Chief Minister that the tourism sector in the state was built in really hard way over a period of 30 years under successive governments.
“It should not be destroyed overnight for reasons whatsoever,’’ they said. They pointed out that the state tourism sector is witnessing the arrival of various incentive groups, of late.
“Tourists are not coming here for boozing, but beer and liquor are an integral part of their choice list, going by their lifestyles. One cannot deny it for being a tourist here,’’ they said, adding that political parties or the government are not bothered at all about the crores and crores of rupees in investment made by private groups here.
‘’Tourism sector is the biggest employment provider now in terms of investment. For every Rs 12 lakh investment, state’s tourism sector generates 89 jobs whereas it is only 45 in agriculture and 13 in the manufacturing sector,’’ they pointed out.
The delegation also told the Chief Minister that if the government is really sincere that liquor is a social evil and should be banished then the state-owned retail outlets should be closed along with all bars at one go,instead of phased closure over a period of ten years.
“The government can indeed take a decision that there needn’t be sale of any hard liquor by anyone. It can be decided that only soft drinks like wine and beer shall be served,’’ they told Chandy.
“Closure of bars in even 3-star and 4- star hotels is the most emotional decision ever taken by a government which ruled the state. That too without any consultation or conciliation with various stake-holders even when tourism is admittedly the key economic driver of the state,’’ Najeeb told ‘Express’. “In the emerging scenario, organised bootlegging and illicit liquor vending cannot be ruled out,” he said.
As per the 2013 statistics of Geneva- based World Travel and Tourism Council, Kerala’s tourism sector provides 14 lakh jobs directly and another 10 lakh indirectly.
“Kerala Tourism sector spins Rs 25,000 crore turnover annually and `5,500 crore in foreign exchange. It is estimated that 1.08 crore domestic and 8.5 lakh foreign tourists had touched Kerala shores last year,” he said.