NEW DELHI:The devastating floods in Kerala last month, coming soon after a Nipah virus outbreak, has left the state’s tourism industry in tatters, with almost complete cancellation of bookings for three months. Now, it’s looking to rebound.
Kerala Tourism on Wednesday rolled out a 12-point action plan to revive the sector, which include rebuilding and repairing roads that connect popular tourist destinations on a war footing, and launching aggressive marketing campaigns within the country and abroad. It plans to conduct a series of awareness and sensitisation campaigns alongside tour operators and trade bodies over the next couple of months to assure Indian and overseas tourists that all will be well soon in ‘god’s own country’, department officials said.
It also plans to participate in all major domestic and international trade fairs in September and October, starting with India Tourism Mart being held in partnership with the tourism ministry in Delhi from September 16, to ensure Kerala is perceived as a safe destination, officials said. It will hold press meets and awareness campaigns in Delhi and all major cities of India, they said.
“We need to give out a message that we are safe and tourism is back on track,” said Abraham George, member, National Tourism Advisory Council. He said the government has been repairing roads on a war footing since September 1, and activities like boating on the Periyar Lake in Thekkady have resumed. Travel and tourism accounts for 10% of Kerala’s gross state domestic product and for 25% of employment in the state.
Tour operators from the state said that businesses in the state have suffered a loss of at least three months. “Our estimate is that the loss in business through tourism in the state could be as much as Rs 2,000 crore,” said George, who is also the chairman at Kochi-based tour operator Intersight Tours and Travels.
“There have been complete cancellations for August, September and October. Unfortunately, the health advisories released have been misinterpreted by certain sections of the media and it gives the impression that Kerala is unsafe,” he said. His own business witnessed 90% cancellations for August and September with very weak enquiries coming in for forward bookings. Credit rating agency ICRA said the August floods will severely dent Kerala’s tourism income in the coming months.
As per the agency, inflow of domestic tourists to Kerala grew by 11.4% to 147 lakh tourists in 2017 while foreign tourist arrivals grew by 5.2% to 10.9 lakh tourists. Total foreign exchange from the tourism sector last year grew by 8.3% to Rs 8,392 crore, while the total revenue from tourism grew by 12.6% to Rs 33,384 crore, ICRA said.
The deluge in August was widespread, affecting 10 out of the 14 districts in the state. Ernakulam district — the largest tourism (and industrial) contributor to the state economy — was severely damaged, with the main airport into the state (Kochi) shutting down for two weeks.
“There was a big hit in forward bookings over the past one month,” said EM Najeeb, head of Great Indian Tour Company, a Thiruvananthapuram-based tour operator.
The industry is now working to allay fears of tourists looking at future bookings. “Now there is improved connectivity in places like Munnar, Wayanad, and Thekkady,” said Najeeb who is also a member of Indian Association of Tour Operators. “We will make our presence felt in all major exhibitions and marts, and will hold press meets in all major destinations of India. This has been initiated by the government at the behest of trade bodies.”