While the travel industry in most states in India is battling the adverse impact of the coronavirus outbreak and the resultant lockdown, stakeholders in the tourism sector in Karnataka are attempting a comeback with the removal of intra-state and inter-state travel restrictions from early September in line with the Unlock 4 guidelines of the Government of India.
After the state government relaxed the COVID-19 induced restrictions, the Karnataka Tourism Forum (KTF) earlier this month spearheaded a bikers’ rally to revive tourism in the state in collaboration with the Indian Motorcycle Riders Group. This innovative venture rekindled the spirit of travel and created awareness that it was safe to travel in the state.
“The symbolic ride was planned to publicise the fact that Karnataka is safe to travel as long as the new norms of physical distancing and self-safety are followed. We at KTF are hopeful that the rally will lay the foundation for a new beginning and encourage more people to come out and support the travel fraternity,” said M Ravi, Vice President, KTF.
Feeling claustrophobic cooped up in their homes and fatigued after the stifling lockdown, people were yearning for a change of place and a break from the monotony of their homes. Realising that it is not going to be business as usual for the tourism sector, stakeholders felt the need to tap into the robust domestic market to essay a recovery. Tour operators, resort and homestay owners are curating innovative tourism concepts and packages to promote domestic travel and retain high-spending customers.
Tourism stakeholders in the districts of Kodagu, Chikmagalur, Mysore and Hassan are in a jubilant mood with rooms fully booked over weekends. One leading resort in Kodagu is chock-a-block with bookings till November end. These hotels capitalised on the idea that travelling to drive-able distances within the state is safe. With adequate safety parameters and physical distancing, such local travel can be a boost for those on both the demand and supply side.
To lure the tourists back, homestays and resorts have come up with the innovative idea of ‘workation’ where tourists can stay and work from the resort or homestay. Under this option, good internet connectivity, rooms, office furniture and food service are provided. All these are incorporated into affordable packages ranging from three days to one or two weeks. This concept has elicited good response from techies in Bengaluru who liked the idea of working surrounded by greenery and nature, undisturbed in complete privacy. The most sought-after workation destinations are in Kodagu and Chikmagalur.
Workation | Pic credit: Porcupine Castle, Kodagu
The concept of workation initiated by Porcupine Castle, a hilltop resort in Kodagu, post lockdown relaxations and permission to open resorts and hotels in June, has been a big hit. “We procured a dozen dongles and installed broadband cables to welcome the wi-fi tribe. We offered a good package with wi-fi connection and other facilities, wherein the guest can work and relax with family in a relaxing ambience. Our excellent wi-fi was our trump card and received overwhelming response. Guests are also offered nominal prices if staying for over 10 days,” explained Anila V Paul, Director of the resort.
The resort had an inspector from the public health centre to train their staff while the district office monitors the tourists and their documents. The resort’s naturalist has been trained to double up as a COVID inspector.
The Serai in Chikmagalur has hosted software professionals from Bengaluru and Mangalore. “We also have ‘Back to School’ packages whereby students can avail online classes from the property. We targeted people who haven’t travelled for 5 months and gave them an opportunity to step out from the confines of their homes,” said Anand Menon, Senior General Manager, The Serai.
According to Revathy Iyer, owner of Silver Brook Estate, a boutique homestay in Kodagu, “People prefer homestays as we have fewer guests. Owners staying in the homestay is an assurance for the guests that they are in a safe environment. Moreover, we’re able to provide home-cooked food and the comfort of personal touch to our customers. Safety has always been our priority. With less guests, it’s easy to implement safety norms like physical distancing and sanitisation.”
Trekking in Kodagu | Photo credit: Susheela Nair
“We avoid online booking as it’s difficult to check the credentials of the guests. We prefer direct booking or rely on known travel agents like Arjun Tours. We even have an MNC employee staying with us for the past three months, working from here. Instead of WFH, they are working from a different location. As vacations are unfeasible right now, we recommend everyone take a workation,” Revathy added.
But on the contrary, the footfall in other regions of Karnataka, except Hampi, has not been very encouraging. The state’s stunning 320-km long coastline is home to India’s best beach and temple country, palm-fringed beaches, lush green fields, forests and rivers with the distant roar of the Arabian Sea for company. “But adequate awareness and promotion is woefully lacking. Gokarna is what Goa was in the 1950s to 1970s with only a handful of good resorts,” lamented Rachael Ravi, Managing Director, Red Earth Resort, Gokarna.
Blessed with a pristine and unexploited coastline, Karnataka has the opportunity to become part of a larger beach tourism landscape along with Goa and Kerala, which have some of the country’s popular beaches and backwaters. Experts feel that unlike Goa’s crowded and commercialised stretches, Karnataka can create a classy coastal destination focused on ethnic culture, serenity, exclusivity and adventure. While a series of projects have reached the blueprint stage, only a few have reached the sands.
In promising news for the state’s tourism sector, Karnataka unveiled a new tourism policy aiming to create 10 lakh jobs and attract Rs 5,000 crore investments in the sector by 2025. The policy was launched by Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa and Tourism Minister CT Ravi on World Tourism Day on Sunday.
Susheela Nair is an independent food, travel and lifestyle writer, and photographer based in Bangalore. She has contributed content, articles and images on food, travel, lifestyle, photography, environment and ecotourism to several reputed national publications. Her writings constitute a wide spectrum, including guide books, brochures and coffee table books.