KOCHI: After suffering huge losses over the past three years, the tourism sector started to return to normal in December 2021 when destinations reopened and started receiving domestic and international tourists. The sector is now back to square one due to the increase in Covid cases. Over 1,000 small, medium and large tour operators, homestays and hotels have ceased to operate due to the spread of Omicron and subsequent restrictions.

“Over 60% of foster homes across the state remain closed. Few others who have worked struggle to meet their expenses, including rent. Several foreign countries have imposed a travel ban which is making matters worse,” Kerala Homestay and Tourism Society Director Sivadathan MP said.
Sivadathan, also a member of the State Tourism Advisory Committee, said the focus lately has been on domestic tourists as international flights have been restricted.

“In December, during the holidays, special offers and packages were introduced to attract domestic tourists. But once travel restrictions were in place, many people canceled their trips. Unless the government intervenes, it will be difficult for the sector to survive,” he said. Fort Kochi and Mattanchery, the state’s main tourist destinations, have suffered. Tour operators and property managers are at risk.

Sajith Saj of Saj Homestay said Fort Kochi has thrived on international tourists all these years.
“For two years, we have had practically no international tourists. Those who had planned to travel are now facing visa restrictions and canceling their reservations. Although we had a decent flow of domestic passengers, that too has stopped now. It is difficult for the sector as uncertainty looms,” he said.

Homestay owners in Kovalam and Varkala are also in dire straits.

“The beaches are deserted and there are hardly any tourists. Although business improved towards the end of 2021, Omicron once again meant death for us. In the absence of an influx of tourists, we are forced to keep the homestay facilities closed. The dilapidated state of tourist spots like Kovalam due to frequent sea erosion has also led to a drop in tourist numbers,” said one homestay owner. Houseboats and resorts in Alappuzha also face a bleak future.

Tourists discouraged from traveling

EM Najeeb, chairman of Air Travel Enterprises, a leading tour operator, said the sudden restrictions imposed due to the spread of Omicron had been a blow. “We mainly depend on foreign tourists for our business. We were slowly reviving the industry after suffering a loss of over Rs 45,000 crore in the past three years. The sudden announcement of the restrictions brought in at the end of December upset all our plans. We have already approached Union and state governments to urge them to take action to support the industry,” he said.

Tour operators also believe the restrictions are discouraging foreign tourists from travelling. “Most of the foreign tourists who had made reservations for the coming months canceled them. Instead, they are heading to places like the Maldives and Sri Lanka, saying there are no restrictions there,” said Saji Nanukuttan of Shiva’s Tours and Travels, Kovalam.

Nizam A of ANM Tours and Travels Pvt Ltd said it had many bookings through March for destination weddings and other gatherings, but the restriction on the number of wedding guests caused mass cancellations. “Our buses hit the road in December 2021 after being idle for nearly two years. Just when business was getting back to normal, the sudden restrictions hampered our plans,” he said.

What are the problems of the state tourism outlook

As a lack of foreign tourists and rising test positivity rate scare domestic tourists away from Kochi’s beaches, the capital’s seaside faces the threat of sea erosion. Houseboats and resorts in Alappuzha are also struggling to survive.