Tourism Minister says steps, including decentralisation of destination development, on the cards to offset revenue loss caused by decline in international tourist arrivals

The Kerala government has said that the State could offset the revenue loss caused by the sharp decline in foreign tourist arrivals by aggressively promoting domestic tourism.

Replying to questions raised by legislators during Question Hour in the Assembly on Thursday, Tourism Minister P.A. Mohamed Riyas said that the COVID-19 pandemic had drastically altered the people’s holiday plans.

The international holiday travel and leisure cruise industries were on the course to a slow revival. In the hiatus, high-spending tourists opted heavily for nearby holiday destinations they could reach by road.

Mr. Riyas said inter-district and inter-State travel for leisure was the prevailing trend. Kerala’s local destinations had swelled with domestic tourists during the brief hiatus between the first and second waves of COVID-19.

Mr. Riyas said Kerala was poised to make most of the projected upsurge in domestic tourism to rapidly surmount the loss caused by the staggering breakdown in international travel. The State would do so by decentralising tourism. Mr. Riyas said local bodies would have a higher stake in developing holiday destinations. The State government would improve inter-district and inter-State connectivity. Its pitch would help revive the moribund motor vehicle sector.

More domestic tourists

Mr. Riyas said an estimated 1.83 crore domestic tourists had holidayed in Kerala during the pre-pandemic period in 2019. In comparison, the State received only 10 lakh foreign tourists that year. Domestic tourists were the bigger piece of the tourism pie, he said.

Kerala has envisaged a slew of tourism promotion schemes to raise domestic and foreign tourists to 3 crore and 20 lakhs respectively by 2025.

Cleanliness issues

Sanitation, solid waste disposal and environmental pollution were major stumbling blocks to tourism. The government would address the cleanliness issues with the support of stakeholders and local communities.

Mr. Riyas said Kerala would globally market the State’s cuisine and culture. It would promote historical and pilgrimage tourisms. The State would market itself as an affordable corporate and Ayurveda destination.

Mainstay of economy

The Minister said mere numbers alone could not encapsulate the loss caused due to the collapse of global tourism. The travel and tourism industry was a significant livelihood provider in Kerala and the mainstay of its economy. The precipitous drop in tourists had driven hundreds to penury. Houseboat owners, motor vehicle employees, hotel workers and other service providers have taken a beating.

Government aid

The government has cushioned their suffering by declaring a moratorium on repayment of business loans and waiving taxes. It has urged banks to provide easy and low-interest loans to tourism entrepreneurs to revive their businesses. The government hoped to mitigate the losses through innovative schemes and marketing programmes.

Homestays, houseboats

Kuttanad legislator Thomas K. Thomas said homestays were the backbone of the wetland economy. However, the pandemic had forced their closure. Snake boat races, another major attraction, had come to a close. “There seemed to be no end in sight for the travails of the people,” he said.

Congress MLA P.C. Vishnunath who represents the Kundara segment said the pandemic had devastated houseboat tourism. The government should take urgent steps to revive the tourism sector at the earliest.

Indian Union Muslim League’s M.K. Muneer said the bustling Kovalam, Kumarakam and Varkala resort localities had become ghost towns.

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