The decision of leading international tour operators not to operate any chartered flights to Kerala this tourist season has caused unease in the hospitality industry and travel trade. Though Kerala is touted as a 365-day destination, the arrival of chartered flights from Gatwick in the United Kingdom signals the start of the four-month peak season commencing in November.

A pall of gloom has descended on Kovalam with the spread of the news that there will be no charter tour operations. The beach resort is the first stopover of those who arrive in the chartered flights. Later, they proceed to tourist destinations within the State and Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

“The hotels that solely depend on the chartered tourists will be the worst hit by the decision. It will affect the entire State as the tourists proceed on local tours and round trips after arriving in the capital,” says the manager of a local tour operator that was handling charter operations.

As many as 22 flights were operated from Gatwick to Thiruvananthapuram International Airport last season bringing in over 6,600 chartered tourists. The operations and the local tours fetched Rs.10 crore.

The tour operator had withdrawn citing poor response and reported loss in the charter operations over the years. The U.K. is one of the biggest markets for Kerala Tourism.

Destination Indus in association with Travel in that operated chartered flights for the first time to Kerala during the last tourist season from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is also not operating this season. Over 630 Estonian tourists had arrived in seven chartered flights that were operated during the three-and-a-half months.

Secretary, Tourism, V. Venu, says the decision of the tour operators not to operate chartered flights is not in any way connected with the issues facing the destination. “We had even responded to the request of the tour operators to extend support to revive the flights. We were ready to extend some help in marketing, but they were interested in specific risk- sharing model,” he said.

Hopeful

Managing Director, Destination Indus, Varghese Oommen, says the encouraging aspect during the last one month is that the foreign individual travellers are coming back. “The mass market (charter) continues to be affected,” he said.

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