THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala’s tourism sector is struggling. While the inflow of domestic tourists has picked up post relaxation of Covid restrictions, footfall of foreign tourists — who spend the big bucks — is not even a quarter of what it used to be before the pandemic, dashing the tourism sector’s hopes of a quick revival after a nearly three-year lull.
Here’s how bad things are: Kerala received a little over 1 lakh international tourists until July 2022. The number had exceeded 6 lakh by July 2019 and neared 12 lakh, an all-time high, by the year was over
Industry experts blame the Centre’s delay in restoring e-visa faility for visitors from the UK and Canada, who form a major chunk of foreign tourists coming to India, and the state government’s lack of vision to promote Kerala Tourism globally for the dip. The e-visa facility had been suspended in March 2020.
“The state government is in talks with the Tourism Ministry for relaxations to ease international arrivals. The pandemic took away three years from us. We had hoped things would pick up this year. Unfortunately, it did not happen. We hope things will get better soon,” a senior official with the tourism department told TNIE.
State not taking steps to know foreign tourists’demands: Tour operators
At present, domestic tourists are keeping the industry afloat. Around 87 lakh domestic tourists visited Kerala until July, compared to 1.8 crore in all of 2019. “What we currently need is an aggressive marketing strategy to bring foreign tourists. We hope foreign tourist footfall will pick up in January,” said Rajesh P R, an outbound tour manager.
Meanwhile, many tourism stakeholders feel the state government lacks vision and is not properly studying the market or tourists’ demand. “The government is not studying real issues or even interacting with tour operators to understand what foreign tourists want. The Jagratha portal is still in use at Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram airports and tourists are forced to go through such formalities. This is affecting our efforts to bring tourists. For them, visiting Vietnam, Turkey or Thailand is much easier. We need to be more welcoming and remove such restrictions,” said Shaik Ismail, president of the Tourism Professionals Club and Tourism Care Foundation. The Jagratha portal was used to keep track of people entering the state during the pandemic.
Ismail also said hardly any steps are being taken to develop beaches, which stretch 590km along the state’s coast. “Seventy per cent of foreign tourists come to Kerala for the beaches. However, the government has failed to develop even a single beach where foreigners can spend time and take a swim. Many destinations lack basic facilities like washrooms,” he said. “Kerala should do more to promote tourism. Taking part in global events without proper vision will not woo tourists. Healthy discussions with tourism stakeholders are not taking place,” he alleged.
Lack of quality taxi service is another issue affecting the tourism industry. “We are unable to bring guests due to such logistical issues. We need good cars and senior drivers to drive foreign guests around. Such services have become non-existent following the pandemic,” Rajesh said.