Tourism will take wings

Longer cruises, bigger vessels will bolster the sector

Published - April 23, 2022 07:57 pm IST - KOCHI 

Once ready for seamless commute, the expansive inland waterways of the State will be a game changer for tourism, with tourists getting to savour an entirely new experience, Additional Chief Secretary (Tourism) V. Venu said.  It will open up a new product line, more so since cruising in Kerala is now mostly limited to short stretches, for a day or two. In most parts of the world, guests spend many days together aboard bigger vessels. The waterway will result in longer cruises, like a week-long trip on the Kovalam-Ponnani stretch. New, bigger vessels — a la floating hotels — could be introduced, he added. 

A senior official who played a key role in reviving works on the State’s inland waterways said much more needed to be done to establish unhindered connectivity on the Kovalam-Bekal stretch. “Once realised, the 600-km inland waterway could become the world’s second biggest corridor, after a 1,000-km one in China. The State should have a standardised inland waterway on the Kovalam-Bekal stretch in three years. Emphasis ought to be given to clear bottlenecks, especially on stretches that total 26 km in the Malabar region. They can be cleared within a year,” he said.  

In 2020, Kerala Waterways and Infrastructures Ltd. (KWIL) made a vision document on how the waterway ecosystem ought to be by 2050. A key element was ensuring that all boats operate on solar energy by that time. In addition, seaplanes could connect waterways in districts with high tourism potential like Alappuzha and Wayanad, the official said. 

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been convening monthly review meetings to keep track of the works to widen and deepen the waterway linking Kovalam and Bekal, it is learnt. 

“For a start, barges ferrying cargo in bulk can operate if narrow stretches are widened to at least 15 metres. These stretches can be widened further, if need be, with land being acquired. Tourist vessels can follow suit,” sources said. 

Interestingly, few tourist boats have operated on the 205-km Kollam-Kottappuram National Waterways III (NW III), 15 years since it was commissioned. This, despite the IWAI, which spearheaded the development of the stretch, expressing its willingness to permit tourist vessels to call at its terminals in various locales. 

Still, a few boldly ventured in with their tourist boats.  “The IWAI helped clear impediments on the waterway, including by pruning low-lying branches of trees that could damage boats,” said Renuka Devi, regional manager of a firm which used to ferry foreign tourists and other guests on cruises that lasted up to a week, through the waterway. 

“We had two boats, including one with an upper deck designed in such a way that it could transit beneath low-lying bridges. We encouraged other boat operators also to use the Kumarakom stretch, since group bookings brought in guests in bulk. The IWAI should set up floating jetties, so that guests on board ‘kettuvalloms‘ (traditional houseboats) can easily alight the vessels. In addition, if the scenic Alappuzha-Kottayam stretch is dredged and a couple of terminals are set up, guests can be taken on cruises to experience village life which hold tremendous possibility. Then there are problems like debris of bridge works not being cleared, posing danger to boats, she said.

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