From the lack of a proper licensing system to luxury tax, the woes of homestay operators make for a long list, prompting not less than 400 operators to leave the field over the last two years.
Kerala Homestay and Tourism Society (Kerala Hats), which has about 820 registered members authorized by the State tourism department, complains that there is absolutely no mechanism to control and regulate the proliferation of unauthorised homestays flouting the guidelines of the department.
Unless the tourists verify the credentials of the homestay through the Kerala Hats website or look for the tourism department’s registration certificate, they could end up in unscrupulous homestays.
“We have for long been asking the tourism department and the police to ban such unregistered homestays or to at least stop them from branding themselves as homestays,” said P.N. Prasannakumar, chairman, Kerala Hats.
It is estimated that authorized homestays accounted for about 2,500 rooms whereas the unauthorised ones account for five times that number in the State.
Homes having one to six rooms to spare for the accommodation of tourists and where the family concerned lives alongside the visitors are classified as homestays. The tourism department has classified homestays into three categories – silver, gold, diamond – depending on the facilities. The rooms are charged between Rs. 500 and Rs. 6,500 depending on the facilities and the rich history of the accommodation.
Mr. Prasannakumar said homestays, predominantly a means of self-employment for individual families, accounted for 15-20 per cent of the State’s tourism industry. For instance E.K. Nazir, who has been running a beachside homestay categorized as Silver at Kannur, earns around Rs. 3 to Rs. 4 lakh a year from the five rooms he rent out.
He said the present classification system for homestays is inadequate where the conditions are not fit for a flexible industry like homestay. The classification is valid only for two years and unlike any other industry, the operators are required to repeat the whole process all over again to get it renewed, which may take up to six months.
“We have to run behind the District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC) officials after filing applications for renewal. DTPC should be authorized to renew the application without forwarding it to the tourism director and the renewal within 15 days of applying should be made mandatory. Minister for Tourism A.P. Anilkumar told The Hindu that he will take up the issue of coordination among various departments with his cabinet colleagues.
Mr. Prasannakumar said the commercial rate imposed on homestays by the Kerala Water Authority should be reverted to the domestic tariff at the earliest as done by the Kerala State Electricity Board at the instance of the Electricity Regulatory Commission to stop more operators from leaving the industry.