It’s been over 100 days since the devastating floods hit Kerala, and caused heavy destruction to human lives and property across the state. Among the various sectors that were hit hard due to the deluge, was the tourism sector, which is the backbone of Kerala’s economy.
But it was not just the floods that wreaked havoc in the state. In May, some parts of the state were hit by the Nipah virus and ever since then the state of Kerala has been hit by one crisis after another – the intense monsoons in June and July to the floods in August followed by the protests that erupted because of the ongoing Sabarimala issue. All of this, without a doubt, has had a huge impact on the state’s thriving tourism industry.
TNM spoke to a couple of officials and employees of the tourism sector to find out the present condition of industry.
Speaking to TNM, Rajeesh Gopinath, the Sales and Marketing Head of Greenwood Resort in Thekkady says that it took almost three months post the floods for most resorts in Idukki to start receiving enquiries for tourist visits. “But even now, as compared to previous years, most of these enquiries are not getting converted into bookings,” said Rajeesh.
But Rajeesh emphasises that even though the tourism industry in Idukki area and in Kerala as a whole has been affected, the situation is slowly getting better and that strong efforts are being made by tour operators, hoteliers, transport operators, to get the tourism sector back on its feet.
Sources say that following the Nipah virus outbreak and the floods, many tour operators outside the state used to demotivate tourists from visiting Kerala, by stating that it was unsafe for them.
“This had also affected our tourist inflow post the floods,” said PV Manu, Secretary of the Association of Tourism Trade Organisations India (ATTOI).
Manu told TNM that even after the floods, several alerts about poor weather in Kerala had kept the tourists away from the state, “as they did not want to take any risks following the floods.”
Prasanth KG, an official working in the sales department of Starlit Suites in Kochi said that their hotel occupancy had severely taken a dip during the deluge. “Our property has 136 rooms. On an average, around 100 to 110 rooms are occupied every month. The three months following the floods, the numbers went down to as low as 45, 25 and 30,” Prasanth tells TNM.
“The situation is slowly getting steady now. Obviously, we cannot compare this season like that of the previous years but we are recovering quickly,” said Prasanth. “One of the positives at the moment is that many companies outside the state have resumed booking the hotels here for their various off-site programmes and meetings. That itself is a good sign,” he added.
“The tourism sector in the state is working a lot on their branding and marketing post the deluge. Resorts and travel organisers are coming up with attractive packages and offers and we are also making use of both online and offline methods to attract tourists to the state,” said Rajeesh.
“We had invited many tour operators from states like Maharashtra, Gujarat and other states to come to Kerala and see the situation first hand to tell them that everything is back to normal and that they can start convincing tourists that it is safe to visit the state now,” says Rajeesh.
Kerala Tourism has also taken the help of various travel and lifestyle bloggers, who were invited to experience the “post flood” Kerala. “Some of these bloggers have a huge number of followers and through them, we are trying to spread the word that Kerala is safe and ready to welcome tourists,” added Rajeesh.
The state government and various companies are coming up with innovative advertising campaigns to send a message across that Kerala has recovered. One such campaign was the #KeralaIsOpen ad campaign by Samsonite.
Along with this, several public personalities are also spreading the word that it is safe to visit Kerala. Recently, Indian Cricket Captain Virat Kohli during his visit to Thiruvananthapuram, had written a letter where he said that, “the beauty of Kerala is something to be experienced and I would recommend to everyone that they should come here and experience the energy of God’s own country.”
Fear over political tensions
Officials fear that the ongoing tensions in the state owing to the Sabarimala issue and flash strikes might hinder the recovery phase of the tourism sector.
Speaking to TNM, Vinod CS, the President of ATTOI said that Kerala is a state which normally earns close to Rs 39,000 crores every year due to tourism and lakhs of people make a livelihood in the tourism sector. “Usually, the tourism sector and the dairy sector are excluded from hartals. But the recent hartals due to the Sabarimala protests witnessed several tourists also being stranded and blocked by protestors forcing many of them to go back and others to cancel their trips,” said a concerned Vinod.
On November 19, members of the Tourism Professionals Club took out a silent candle light march in Kochi against the hartals and flash strikes that were hurting the recovering tourism sector in the state.