A State-wide strike by autorickshaw and taxi owners in Kerala over the last two days has dealt a crushing blow to the houseboat and general tourism, which for long have been the bread and butter of Alappuzha.
On Thursday and Wednesday alone, more than 100 planned trips along the backwaters were cancelled. Cancellations are still on, with the houseboat sector alone suffering a loss of Rs.50 lakh in the last two days, according to All Kerala Houseboat Owners' Association general secretary Jomon Konnackapally.
The damage to the general tourism sector is yet to be ascertained.
The taxi-auto owners had called the strike, demanding among others fixation of higher level of fares owing to the sharp increase in petrol prices.
This year's tourist inflow, after the dull pickings forced upon the sector by global economic downturn in the last two seasons, was quite encouraging.
There were many houseboats that began hearing the footsteps of visitors on a daily basis from November, after lying depressingly idle for the last 20-odd months. However, the auto-taxi strike has threatened to badly hurt the houseboat owners who hoped to make up for the losses they suffered in the last two seasons.
On Thursday, agitating taxi and autorickshaw unions prevented taxis and vehicles from ferrying tourists. The tourists, a majority of them from abroad, alighted at the Finishing Point at Punnamada after single-day and two-day cruises, and were shocked to find that there was no way they could reach the Nedumbassery Airport in time for their flights back home.
Frantic calls to tour operators who had arranged for their trips saw the tour operators trying to arrange vehicles to take the tourists to the airport.
But even these were prevented by the agitators. An intervention by the police bore no fruit as the striking unions refused to budge.
Some of the tourists walked all the way to the KSRTC bus station, but disappointment awaited them there too, as most of the buses were packed to the core.
Though the strike ended on Thursday evening, houseboat owners lamented that the damage was done with most tourists cancelling the Alappuzha leg of their trip.