Tourism yet to pick up at Varkala

Only a handful of shops and hotels have opened for serving the few domestic visitors

Thick blue tarpaulin stretched out across shop facade, to protect the metal shutters from getting rusted in the sea winds, is one of the common features of many of the shops lining Varkala Cliff now, as they have been remaining closed for an extended period.

Inside the restaurants that have not opened even for delivery services, the chairs once tastefully arranged are all put up in a pile. The cliff, which once used to be buzzing with tourists, now has the appearance of a ghost town, with only a few domestic tourists seen roaming about.

Even a week after the Tourism Department allowed tourists spots including Varkala to open up, and allow visitors by following COVID-19 protocols, only a handful of shops and restaurants have opened. A majority are choosing to play the waiting game until things improve, and inflow of tourists hit normal levels.

“Domestic tourists are turning up in smaller numbers, but it will take time for the situation to become normal. Unless foreign tourists and those from other States start coming, business will not improve. Ours is one of the few hotels which did not close down during this whole period, because we have some foreigners who have not returned home staying here,” says Nadirsha, who runs Cafe Del Mar at Varkala Cliff.

According to K.R.Sajeev, who runs Elixir Cliff Beach Resort, there has been a spike in booking for the Onam weekend in most locations. However it is not clear whether this will sustain beyond the season.

“In normal times, 80% of our guests are from outside Kerala. However, now most bookings are coming from within the State, from people who are unable to travel outside during the Onam holidays. Though this is a crowd with a good paying capacity, it remains to be seen whether it will sustain after Onam. Generally, things are dull at Varkala,” he says.

In the past two years since the pandemic struck, many have looked at other options for livelihood. While some of those who were running medium-priced restaurants here have opened shops closer to the town areas, the workers here have shifted to painting, plumbing and fish vending. The handicrafts shops run by Kashmiri families have not opened up, as the high-priced products are usually bought only by foreign tourists, who have not started arriving.

“The shops started opening only by Friday, as we had a micro-containment zone in these areas. We expect 30-40% shops to open by Onam, but many are waiting as they fear another lockdown will be clamped down if COVID-19 cases go up during Onam. Most of them have to carry out major maintenance work to re-open, so they want to make sure that business will remain steady, before they take it up,” says Baiju Puthooram, Secretary of the Varkala Tourism Development Association.

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