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Houseboat industry struggles to find its moorings

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ADRIFT: Though a good number of houseboats operating in Alappuzha are properly maintained, there are several without valid licence or licensed crew. - Photo: K.K. Mustafah
ADRIFT: Though a good number of houseboats operating in Alappuzha are properly maintained, there are several without valid licence or licensed crew. - Photo: K.K. Mustafah

A. Harikumar

District Tourism Promotion Council not oriented to control the unhealthy practices in the sector

ALAPPUZHA: After 15 jovial years of uncontrolled growth, the houseboat industry in Alappuzha, which attracts thousands of foreigners and provides jobs to the unemployed youth of Alappuzha and Kuttanad, is finding itself face to face with unpleasant truths.

Though a good number of houseboats operating here are properly maintained and operated, there are several without valid licence or licensed crew. Although no major accidents involving houseboats have been reported, there are incidents of houseboats, not properly maintained, sinking with tourists of late.

Emergence of the houseboat industry as a profitable business attracted big business groups to here. And a large number of professionally managed houseboats, which could excel star hotels, were launched.

Unscrupulous elements

At the same time, many unscrupulous elements, trying to make easy money by deceiving tourists, also set up shop here. Unlicensed tour guides who act as middlemen between boat owners and tourists are also active here. Such elements lay in wait at the railway station and the bus station for the unwary tourists.

Absence of tariff regulation for houseboats also leads to fleecing of tourists by houseboat owners. During season, rates go sky-high on particular days depending on the demand. The pollution of backwaters by some of the houseboats is another problem.

At present, around 350 houseboats operate here and more than 20 boats are launched every year. The tourism police, with inadequate staff and facilities, are incapable of dealing with the problems.

Functioning of the District Tourism Promotion Council is not oriented as to control the unhealthy practices in the houseboat tourism sector.

A recent inspection by the Water Resources Department revealed that around 25 of the nearly 70 houseboats inspected did not comply with the stipulations. Fines ranging from Rs.5,000 to Rs.45,000 were imposed and five houseboats found violating norms were seized.

Government role

Executive committee member of the Kerala Houseboat Operators' Association V.C. Zacharia agreed that uncontrolled growth of the industry was not beneficial. Bringing a semblance of order in growth would be beneficial and the Government should take the initiative, he said.

Mr. Zacharia said there were practical difficulties as different boats offered different facilities. But still, based on the classification of houseboats by the Tourism Department, the Government could make an effort, he said.

He said large houseboat companies had to quote rates to tour operators in advance and did not unreasonably hike charges according to day-to-day situation.

President of the Alappuzha Houseboat Owners' Samithi J. Mony Mancombu said it was the delay by officials in granting licences to houseboats that led to multiplying of unlicensed boats.

Mr. Mony said the Government should take the initiative to bring order in the industry.

He said there was no logic in criticising small-scale owners of houseboats for the ills in the industry.

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