KOCHI: V Harris, 64, had never witnessed a downturn in the tourism industry since setting up his resort in Kannur’s Kadalayi, a small town known for its idyllic beaches, rivers and waterfalls, some 15 years back. The outbreak of Covid-19 in January 2020 has turned his business and life upside down, taking away his entire income due to the precipitous drop in visitor arrivals.
“Tourism had been dead from March to October 2020. There were some guests from other states from November to December, but since January this year, the tourist inflow has come to a complete halt,” Harris said. With his income disappearing, Harris has now turned to agriculture in the one-acre compound of his resort. “We started vegetable cultivation last year-end. Farming also gives relaxation from the mental strain due to the current crisis,” he said.
The outbreak of the pandemic and lockdown that followed have been disastrous for Kerala as tourism alone contributes 10 per cent to the state’s economy and employs 23.5 per cent of the total workforce. “I sold my new car. I still have no clue on where the money for the EMI of my home loan will come from. It’s a tough situation,” said a Thiruvananthapuram-based German language tourist guide.
The data from Kerala Tourism Department tell the grim story. The foreign tourist arrivals in the state slumped by 72% from 11.89 lakh in 2019 to 3.40 lakh in 2020. Likewise, the domestic tourist arrivals too plunged by 71% to 53.29 lakh in 2020 from 1.9 crore in 2019. Consequently, the earnings from tourism declined by 75%. The revenue generated from tourist footfall was `11,336 crore last year as compared to `45,200 crore in 2019.
The staggering collapse of the tourism industry in Kerala is reflected on people’s livelihoods. As per the numbers put out by the Travel Agents Federation of India (TAFI) Kerala, one lakh people may have lost their jobs and over 20,000 stakeholders shut down their ventures over the last one year.
Other travel segments such as seafarers’ crew change, travel by IT executives, airline crew business and ‘staycation’ (a popular new concept by which the individual or family stays at home and participates in leisure activities within day-trip distance of their home) have also plunged in the last one-and-a-half years.S S R Krishnan, director of sales, Four Points by Sheraton Kochi, said, “Seafarers’ crew change business has come down by 80% from last year during the lockdown.”
The project and business continuity plan from Infopark companies also dropped by 80% because of the IT firms choosing ‘work from home’ as a more convenient option, he said. Staycation, which was most popular among families, has also seen a 60% decline from March this year. With the air traffic to Kochi also declining, the airline crew business has also been affected badly, Krishnan said.
For homestays, the impact of lockdown has been severe but they still hope for a road to recovery once vehicle movement is allowed. M P Sivadathan, director of Kerala Homestays and Tourism Society (HATS), said unlike hotels where group bookings happen, homestays survive on bookings by individuals and families who come to experience local life. “So, with no tourists during the lockdown, there is no other revenue source for homestays,” he said.
Added Paulose K Mathew, chairman, TAFI-Kerala: “The sad part is that even in these troubled times, financial institutions are proceeding with revenue recovery proceedings against tourism ventures. The government must intervene and announce a financial package.”
Adeeb Ahamed, MD, Lulu Financial Group’s Twenty14 Holdings, reckoned some of the proposals in the state budget presented last week will help revive the sector. “The provision to provide low-interest loans for the tourism sector will go a long way towards channelling working capital, which is the most essential thing for businesses to sustain in these challenging times,” he said.
The pandemic is also a once-in-a-century opportunity for the tourism sector to get its act together to try innovative new approaches, besides cutting wastage and costs. Shruti Shibulal, CEO and director, Tamara Leisure Experiences Pvt Ltd, said, “This is the time for the industry to reinvent itself as a more sustainable sector by deploying solutions that can not only help tide over pandemic-related challenges but also better serve both people and the planet for years to come.”
She said on the industry side, it has motivated businesses to create leaner and more efficient operating models. “On the consumer side, we are witnessing an uptick in health and environmentally conscious clientele,” she said.
Jomy Abraham, hotel manager, Grand Hyatt, Kochi Bolgatty, said the focus is on rebuilding and restructuring the business based on the operational knowledge of the previous months. “The shift from grand, larger-than-life events to small, intimate get-togethers, personalised and mindful weddings has allowed us to plan reimagined experiences for our guests,” he said.