‘Roll out seaplanes to woo high-end tourists’

Services could take off from Kochi as the hub, says CII Kerala Tourism Panel

The lull in tourist arrivals to Kerala due to the pandemic situation has intensified the demand that the government promote seaplane and helicopter services to woo high-end tourists to destinations across Kerala.

This comes in the wake of industrialists and other well-off tourists preferring the aerial mode of commute than spend time on the road route. There are others who don’t mind availing short trips to view scenic locales while seated in a helicopter that provides a bird’s-eye view. Hectic schedule, choked and often ill-maintained roads were hitherto cited as the reasons, while the pandemic situation has accentuated the demand for fast and hassle-free travel to a locale and back. A seaplane service mooted a decade ago failed to take off for a host of reasons, including what was then portrayed as opposition from a section of fisherfolk.

Chipsan Aviation began operating helicopter services from Kochi to locales like Munnar, Kumily and Kumarakom a few years ago. “We are making efforts to ready a tour circuit linking these places. It will help if Kerala Tourism helps in marketing the service since there is demand for such services, especially from affluent tourists who want to get away from stressful life in noisy cities to spend a few days in the high ranges and other scenic locales,” said Sunil Narayanan, co-owner of the firm.

Much of the business comes from northern Indian States, while Bengaluru too has a good market, with many tourists wanting to fly to destinations like Coorg. Up north, helicopters operate shuttle service, including to Kedarnath, located at a height of 12,000 feet. Similar services can be operated to Sabarimala for devotees who want to avoid crowds in Pampa. All that a helicopter needed is half an acre of obstruction-free space to land. They can also be used for health emergencies. Seaplane connectivity too is good, since these aircraft can land in backwaters that abound in the State, he said.

Seven-seater, twin-engine helicopters generally has tariff between ₹2 lakh and ₹2.50 lakh per hour, while single-engine ones charged ₹90,000.

Jose Dominic of CGH Earth and the convener of CII Kerala Tourism Panel said that there is tremendous scope for operating seaplanes or mini aircraft which can land in small air strips, in Kerala. “The services could take off from Kochi as the hub and operate services to locales like Lakshadweep, Maldives, Wayanad and to States in peninsular India like Karnakata, Tamil Nadu, and also to PuducherrySri Lanka, which is much like Kerala in terms of topography, has such services that land in lakes or reservoirs. Such services would bring in high-end tourists who would like to avoid travelling in crowded commercial airlines. They would also capture the imagination of alert independent travellers who want to be far from the madding crowd, more so since they would be cheaper than the fare for helicopter service,” he said.

Juby Mathew Kattampilly, a tour operator, spoke of how a regular seaplane service would have considerably benefited the houseboat sector and helped adventure tourism in Kerala. “It would thus have changed the face of tourism in Kuttanad. The concerns of fishers and others should be alleviated through a scientific study,” he said.

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