Kerala

Homestay sector in troubled waters

6,700 facilities have closed their doors to visitors in Kottayam

February 29, 2020 now appears a season away for Thomas Philip Palackal, owner of the Vembanad Lake Villa, a heritage homestay on the banks of the mighty Vembanad Lake near Vaikom.

It was close to peak season and he was getting quite a few bookings, mostly from abroad. The looming threat of COVID-19 clearly seemed out of place and business was desperately trying to be as usual.

The developments over the next few hours, however, forced Mr.Palackal to plot a different course for the season. The next day morning, he made the difficult decision to cancel all bookings and shut the website for the time being.

As wrenching as the decision was, the 53-year-old says he had no choice.

“There was not much I could do considering the health risk posed by a possible close interaction between my family members, who are the hosts and the guests, especially foreigners,” he said.

Pioneer

One of the pioneers in the State’s homestay sector, Mr.Palackal hopes the uncertainty around the pandemic will end no sooner than later. He, however, finds it difficult to predict when the homestay business in the backwater destination here will be back on track.

M.P. Sivadattan, Director, Kerala Home-stays and Tourism Society (Kerala HATS) regards the COVID-19 crisis as the last thing the home-stay industry was expecting after the back-to back floods since 2018 and the Nipah scare.

“All the 6,700 homestays, including the 700-odd classified facilities, have closed their doors to visitors. The occupancy is trending towards zero and if something is not done immediately, you are going to see several among us out of business soon,” he warned.

He pegs the combined loss for the sector in the current season to be around 75 percent and expects it to touch cent percent by the next week.

“The crisis in the industry also impacts the livelihood of thousands dependent on the sector including the homestay staff to the tourist guides who double up as cabin drivers,” added Mr.Sivadattan.

Taking a serious note of the situation, the Kerala HATS has now approached the Tourism Authority seeking to offer some solace to the bottom-line operators. The key among the proposals include the provision for an interest free loan of upto ₹50,000 for the next two months. Acknowledging the crisis in the sector which was part of the global trend, an official with the Tourism Department further pointed to the rising anti-foreigner sentiments as yet another setback.

“The homestay sector, a household enterprise, is going through a difficult phase,” said the official.

Campaign mode

Confirming the move, K.Roopesh Kumar, Coordinator, State RT Mission, said the Mission would soon embark on a massive campaign mode focusing on the domestic travel community including Keralites and school groups from other States.

“This will be done by focusing on the various aspects including the local heritage and culture including the ethnic cuisine. Discounted packages based on farm and homestays will be introduced by targeting different age and gender groups,” he said.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 4:22:07 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/homestay-sector-in-troubled-waters/article31145843.ece

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