Time not ripe for public relations campaign to woo back tourists, says Kerala Tourism

Alarmed at many foreign and domestic tourists cancelling their Kerala visit following the Thekkady boat disaster, prominent stakeholders in the State’s tourism sector have demanded that the State government step in and take remedial steps to regain the confidence of tourists.

Their hopes of attracting an above average number of tourists have been shattered by the disaster that came just as the tourist season was picking up. The chairman of the Kerala Chapter of the Indian Association of Tour Operators, E.M. Najeeb, said that the government should have taken effective steps to prevent boat accidents like these, which have made a dent in the State’s hitherto image as a safe destination.

At a stakeholder meet that was convened following the disaster, the Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry gave a detailed representation to the Tourism Minister and Secretary of Kerala Tourism, stating the short and long-term measures that ought to be taken to ensure the safety of tourists while on water bodies and roads. Kerala has the highest road accident rate in the country.

The condition of roads connecting many tourist locales is far from satisfactory.

Houseboats hit

“As an immediate measure, we demanded that the government resume boating in Thekkady and other locales, after talking all precautions. There is an urgent need to rebuild the confidence of tourists. Measures must also be taken to prevent the spread of contagious diseases and incidents of theft and robbery,” Mr. Najeeb said.

The operators of houseboats are among the worst hit by cancellations.

Many of them have been forced to offer off-season rates for their backwater cruise, during the current tourist season. They are further saddened by the fact that many North Indian tourists cancelled their tours, not having a clear idea of the type of vessel that capsized in Thekkady.

“Ever since houseboats (kettuvalloms) were commercially launched 15 years ago in the State, there has been just one major accident involving them, after two boats collided with each other,” said a prominent house-boat operator in Alappuzha.

Even the recently-launched houseboats with two decks and having a small pool on the upper deck are considered safe, since they are built the traditional way, mostly from wood. On its part, Kerala Tourism believes that this is a wrong time to begin an aggressive public relations campaign to woo tourists.

Strong brand

“It would be too simplistic to tell tourists that steps have been taken to prevent any more boat accidents. We must show that our tourist locales are safe, by deeds. A strong tourism brand like Kerala can’t be written off so easily,” said V. Venu, Secretary, Kerala Tourism.

The comprehensive safety audit of tourist locales that has been ordered is expected to give a picture of flaws in safety measures. “This will send a strong message that we are serious about what we say. Rectifying the defects would reinforce people’s confidence,” he said.

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