A decade since World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) commended Kerala for registering the world’s highest growth in the tourism sector, most of the State’s tourism stakeholders are a worried lot.
They are concerned and annoyed at the sharp decline in arrival of foreign tourists during December, when tourist arrivals generally peak.
Former general secretary of Mattancherry-based Kashmir Traders Association Sajid Hussain Khatai said there was roughly 70 per cent decline in arrival of foreign tourists to the heritage locale this month. “Good many foreigners are showing a marked preference for Sri Lanka which resembles Kerala, but offers a more quality experience at much lesser cost. Dozens of Kashmiri traders selling handicrafts and carpets antiques are thus making a beeline to set shop in the island nation.”
Even cruise ships (which bring tourists by the hundred) prefer to call at Colombo than Kochi because of lower berthing charges there. Of late, Goa and southern States too were offering stiff competition to Kerala, because they offered cheaper accommodation, travel and food, Mr. Khatai said.
The president of Kerala Travel Mart Society – a conclave of prominent tourism stakeholders — Abraham George said most hoteliers and other players in the sector were feeling the heat because of a noticeable fall in number of tourist arrivals. “Economic recession in places like Europe has prompted group cancellations. Many who are keen to visit Kerala are peeved at hartals being called at the drop of a hat and have begun to skip the State, because their travel itinerary suffers. The increase in number of hotels, resorts etc., has further affected investors.”
He called for a “consensus” on hartals, simultaneous with aggressive marketing of destinations, to woo tourists.
The State government too acknowledges a slowdown in the sector this season. Secretary of Kerala Tourism Suman Billa said stakeholders were hit because of hike in power tariff and salaries for staff. “There is also an increase in number of hotel/resort rooms. Thus, many properties do not command the price they once had. Still, tourist arrivals in 2013 are seven to eight per cent higher than in 2012.”
Mr Billa expressed concern at tourists, especially from foreign countries, shunning what were once extremely popular locales like Fort Kochi because of slack garbage management and encroachments. “Inadequate and ill-maintained roads/footpaths is another macro issue that needs to be tackled at the State level, since this is affecting many destinations.”
He spoke of how much has to be done to ensure quality service in houseboats. A Rs. 72-crore Central scheme is on the anvil to revive backwater tourism.