Surge in COVID sends shock waves in tourism sector

Houseboats, homestays, hotels finding it hard to keep afloat

The backwater tourism sector has hardly recovered from the scars left by the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it is staring at another headwind due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

With a dip in tourist flow, the stakeholders fear the second COVID-19 wave would spell doom for the sector, which had faced numerous setbacks in recent times in the form of Cyclone Ockhi, the Nipah outbreak, floods and the pandemic.

Sagar S., a houseboat owner in Alappuzha, says he is finding it difficult to keep the business afloat in the face of recurring setbacks. “After the COVID-19-induced lockdown, the sector was on the path of revival. We did some good business during the Easter period. But with COVID-19 rearing its head again and the government tightening restrictions, we are now a worried lot. Any lockdown like in the previous year or halting of houseboat operations will be the final nail in the sector’s coffin,” says Mr. Sagar.

For over six months

The houseboat sector was among the first to come to a grinding halt after the outbreak started to sweep the world early last year. The houseboats remained anchored for more than six months before the government allowed the sector to resume operations in October 2020. In the absence of foreign tourists, the sector is depending on domestic tourists, a majority of them coming from the Malabar region, to survive.

No enquiries, bookings

Kevin Rozario, a houseboat owner, who is also the general secretary of the All Kerala Houseboat Owners and Operators Samiti, says there are hardly any enquiries or bookings in recent days. “With COVID-19 second wave sweeping different parts of the country, we are witnessing a dip in tourist footfalls. We are getting zero visitors from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh or Tamil Nadu. The tightening of curbs like mandatory quarantine is not helping either. The holy month of Ramadan, which is set to begin this week, will see tourists from the Malabar region too stopping their trips. We are bracing for tough times,” Mr. Rozario says.

Apart from houseboats, shikara operators, homestays and hotels too are anxious about their future.

In crisis

“There were signs of revival. But the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the business into crisis. We do not expect a rise in business activity any time soon,” says Tomy Thomas, managing director, Arcadia Regency, Alappuzha.

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