A green imgae of Kerala's famous Kuramakom backwaters
A green imgae of Kerala's famous Kuramakom backwaters

Kerala's Kumarakom tourism industry hit by COVID-19 second wave

Kumarakom is famous for its backwaters, houseboats and vacation retreats, which draw several local and foreign tourists each year.

The Alleppey houseboat owners’ association in Kerala marked May 1, World Labor Day, as a ‘black day’ and staged a protest at Alappuzha finishing point, to highlight the financial distress faced by them as a result of a lockdown and strict COVID-19 restrictions in the state, which has hurt the tourism sector and left many in the Kumarakom area in deep debt.

Alleppey houseboat owners’ association president A Anas said, “The government should protect the tourism industry, save the houseboat market and all fines and fees associated with houseboats should be waived for the next two years.”

Kumarakom is famous for its backwaters, houseboats, vacation retreats, a bird sanctuary and fish, which draw several local and foreign tourists each year. The pandemic has hit the travel and tourism industry of Kumarakom, and with it continuing for over a year and with the state witnessing a frightening second wave, all activity in the area has essentially halted. 

With the travel industry hit because of COVID-19, the whole economy of Kumarakom has been affected. Local people are reliant upon the tourism industry and the decline in tourists has also hurt labourers and craftsmen, besides places of accomodation like resorts and cafés offering ethnic food in the area.

Deepu, an agent with a local travel agency said, “The administrators of the houseboats and shikara boats in the area are in hot water as they have large debts to repay.” All the 120 houseboats and 58 little boats that work out of Kumarakom have been moored for longer than a week at this point, he added. 

“Practically all retreats have cut their rents to pull in travelers. In any case, only a few come, that too at the end of the week. On weekdays, resorts remain empty," said Sebastian, who works in a resort. 

After the easing of lockdown restrictions, the Christmas and New Year season had seen some tourists streaming in, but with cases rising again, this has stopped. Locals in the area said that while several foreign and domestic enquiries had come in during December last year, it was hardly enough to mitigate the losses from the first lockdown. With Kerala now heading into a second lockdown, they fear that the loss would be drastic. 

The falling revenue has also hit fishermen. Earlier, a significant amount of the catch was generally bought by inns, resorts and homestay administrators for their visitors. “Presently, with no sight seeing because of the pandemic, we are relying on finding business outside Kumarakom. A year ago, ‘A Plus’ grade Karimeen (pearl spot) was sold for Rs 550 a kg. This year, it is going for Rs 400 to Rs 450 a kg because of low interest," Anthony, a local fisherman, said.

O Ashraf, a member of the Alleppey houseboat owners’ association, said that despite repeated requests to find a solution to the crisis, neither the state nor the Union government had given a satisfactory response. “We are all saddened about this response,” he added. 

The News Minute