Kumarakom: After remaining idle for six months in view of the pandemic, houseboats have started taking tourists on the Vembanad Lake again, providing a glimmer of hope to the travel industry in the region. Many of the resorts in Kumarakom are also receiving small groups of guests and all COVID-19 protocols are being followed.
It was on March 10 this year that houseboats had stopped their services. As a result, over 2,000 people lost their livelihood and they are now engaged in other jobs. Even then, the houseboat owners have been spending huge amounts for the maintenance of their vessels, suffering significant losses in the process.
According to the Houseboat Owners’ Association, the houseboat sector has lost Rs 10 crore during the last six months. Now, docking services are due for 50 houseboats, while the remaining 50 boats would need repairs to be deployed for service again. The total cost of all these works may come to around Rs 3.5 crore. The owner of a houseboat has to spend at least Rs 10,000 a month for maintenance of the boat and equipment such as the generator.
There are 250 bedrooms in the 100 houseboats of various sizes based in Kumarakom. Before the pandemic struck, these houseboats directly employed 2,200 persons, including the boat staff and people engaged in related work. In addition, 1,500 people benefited from the houseboat sector by carrying out grocery business; selling meat, eggs, milk and vegetables and plying auto-rickshaws and taxis.
Till last year, Kumarakom used to witness a big rush of visitors during the months from March to May. This would be followed by the arrival of foreign tourists in June and July as part of monsoon tourism. With the Nehru Trophy boat race in August, the regular season in Kumarakom started. However, all the tourists expected over these months did not turn up this year.
A few days ago, a ten-member group of family tourists from Kozhikode took out a ride on ‘Meenakshi’, a houseboat at Kumarakom. The group enjoyed a five-hour trip on the backwaters. “We served them lunch comprising the special dishes of Kumarakom, ‘Karimeen pollichathu’ (pearl spot cooked in banana leaf) and prawns. The visitors were satisfied,” said houseboat owner K G Dileep.
“All houseboats and hotels in Kumarakom are functioning by following COVID-19 protocols. Thermal scanner and sanitizer are widely used,” said Honey Gopal, secretary of the Houseboat Owners’ Association.
There are 25 hotels and resorts in Kumarakom which range from budget accommodation to five-star deluxe properties. Some of the visitors are from other states and they follow the COVID-19 protocols. Kumarakom is also hosting weddings again and 20-50 guests attend each of these functions.
Hotel managements confirm that the weddings are conducted strictly abiding to government guidelines. However, they are seeking an exemption for hosting guests from other states. “Hotels have to spend Rs 5-15 lakh a month for maintenance and salaries. Visitors from other states should be allowed to stay in the hotels here without quarantine if they test negative for COVID-19. As per the present rules, quarantine is mandatory, which is keeping travellers away,” said K Arun Kumar, secretary of the Chamber of Vembanad Hotels and Resorts.