KOCHI: Tourists, especially those from abroad, might not be considering Kerala as a hot destination any longer. The year 2015 has been one of the worst years for travel and tourism sector in the state, reckon industry insiders. Stories of entrepreneurs looking to sell their houseboats due to losses, resorts getting closed down and some premium getaways slashing prices by half just to stay in business add to the grimness of the situation.
Nazir Ahmed and Shabir Ahmed from Kashmir, who run a shop selling shawls, jewellery and handicrafts at a resort in Thanneermukkam, Alappuzha, underscore this notion.
“There are hardly any foreign tourists in December, despite the month being considered as the peak of the Kerala tourism season,” rues Nazir. The sentiment is echoed by Ajai Kumar K S, a government of India-accredited German speaking tour guide. “It’s pretty bad this year. A host of reasons including economic slowdown in Europe, high tax for the travel industry and emergence of affordable new destinations such as Sri Lanka have affected Kerala tourism industry,” said Ajai.
Johny Abraham George, CMD of Intersight, a leading tour operator, attributes the slowdown to the aggressive marketing by other states like Gujarat and Karnataka, which were not even in the Indian tourist map some 10-15 years back, higher costs in Kerala and the rise of Sri Lanka as an alternative destination. “Sri Lanka is 100 per cent focused on tourism. The service, the infrastructure and people’s attitude are better,” he says. When the year began, the only concern for the ‘God’s Own Country’s tourism sector was the ban on liquor. It was felt that only MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Events) would be hit. In fact, top government officials even predicted 15 per cent growth in foreign tourists’ arrivals, which grew 7.60 per cent in 2014. G Kamala Vardhana Rao, secretary, Kerala Tourism, however, painted a rosy picture. He said though the growth was not as high as predicted, the foreign tourist arrivals grew at 8.5 per cent till last month, higher than rate than last year.
But industry officials on condition of anonymity point out that foreigners arrivals data released by Kerala Tourism is unreliable as the department double/triple count the same travellers. “The department counts the travellers from the hotel bookings. So, if a foreign traveller check-in at three hotels in different parts of the state, it will be counted as three travellers instead of one,” explains an official. Meanwhile, it seems European economic slowdown has little effect on Sri Lanka’s tourism sector. In November alone, there has been a 20 per cent increase in foreign tourist arrivals into the island nation. While Kerala attracted a total of 9.23 lakh foreigners in 2014, till November 2015, Lanka attracted 16 lakh foreigners.