The fleet of boats would offer guided tours from Marine Drive and Bolgatty Palace to tourist locales like Vypeen, Fort Kochi and Mattanchery.

Five of the 25 tourism initiatives showcased as part of the Emerging Kerala 2012 investment summit are aimed at ensuring optimal utilisation of the State’s waterways, with Kochi as a prominent hub.

The announcement by Chief Minister Oommen Chandy that the 205-km-long Kollam-Kottapuram National Waterway III would be commissioned by January 2013 is expected to boost the role played by waterways in transporting passengers and cargo.

One of the projects profiled in the investment summit is the introduction of hop-on, hop-off boats, which would offer a wonderful opportunity to discover Kochi.

The fleet of boats would offer guided tours from Marine Drive and Bolgatty Palace to tourist locales like Vypeen, Fort Kochi and Mattanchery.

The project envisages five to seven boats, each with a capacity to carry 20 to 30 passengers on guided tours. New boat terminals have been proposed at each point.

The estimated project cost is Rs.20 crore and the government is on the lookout for entrepreneurs to take the idea forward.

A heritage cruise on board a luxury ‘uru’ (dhow) is another venture on the anvil. The relaxing cruise would ideally cover Kappad, Beypore and Kanyakumari, with stopovers at select heritage destinations like Fort Kochi and Thalassery. The estimated project cost is around Rs.15 crore. The dhow will be able to ferry 20 to 30 passengers.

An inland luxury cruise is another project. Large and medium cruise ships take coastal routes because the rivers and canals cannot accommodate large cruise vessels. But it is possible to carry tourists to inland destinations and Kerala’s heartland using a flotilla of specially-designed river ships and cruise barges.

This would take tourists on a trip along the State’s coastline that is dotted with world-renowned heritage destinations and ancient ports, says the project’s profile in the summit’s website.

A fleet of four such vessels has been proposed, each with a capacity to accommodate 50 people. They could also host meetings, conferences and parties.

The proposed route is the NW III and the Champakkara and Udyogamandal canals in Kochi.

The major locations that could be covered en-route are Kollam, Alappuzha, Kochi and Kottapuram in Thrissur. Each such ship is estimated to cost Rs.10 crore.

A water-taxi service too has been mooted, linking towns with tourist locales and resorts.

The government aims to have a right mix of public and private investment for the initiative. Three base destinations have been proposed – Alappuzha, Kumarakom, Kottayam and Kochi. The total project cost is Rs.10 crore and each boat would have a passenger capacity of four to six people.

The initiation of sea-plane services is another proposal, so that they can link Thiruvananthapuram with Kochi through Ashtamudi, Punnamada, Vembanad and Munnar.

A senior official of the Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC) said that the agency has expressed its desire to begin a sea-plane service as a public-private initiative.

“A feasibility study is over and a decision is awaited on whether we will be the implementing agency. The Andamans already has such a service. We are also in a position to repair and maintain the vessels,” he said.

Sources in the Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) said that its presently underutilised terminals along the NW III could be used to berth the different types of tourist vessels that have been proposed in the Emerging Kerala meet.

The director of the State Water Transport Department Shaji B. Nair said that the agency’s priority is to streamline the regular passenger-ferry service in the State. Though the agency already has a double-decker tourist boat service linking Kollam and Alappuzha, operating more tourist vessels might not be feasible now, he said.

More In: Kochi