Alappuzha houseboat owners hopeful of industry revival as Nehru Trophy returns

Nehru Trophy Boat Race. File photo: Manorama.

Alappuzha: Kerala’s famed houseboat industry has been traversing through uncharted waters for the last several years. Now with the Nehru Trophy Boat Race returning to its traditional August date stakeholders see a glimmer of hope.

Nearly half a decade ago, the business was thriving, especially in Alappuzha, with its famous backwaters offering spectacular scenery and attracting scores of tourists from across the world. But the subsequent floods and pandemic broke the back of the industry.

“With the Nehru Trophy Boat Race back to its original schedule, we’re hopeful of an early start to the season with foreign arrivals after a gap of several years. We’re beginning to see inquiries from abroad. The demand is for a ride to the ‘Punnamada finishing point’,” said Vinod V, president of the All Kerala Houseboat Owners' Association.

There are several areas marked by the District Tourism Promotion Council where houseboats will be allowed to cruise on the day of the race, for which it collects a fee on a slab basis from the boat owners. The highest fee of Rs 50,000 is for the ‘Punnamada finishing Point’ area.

“After the lull June-July period, it was the prestigious boat race event usually held in the second week of August, which keeps us going till the tourism season peaks in November. However, the off-season during the last several years was really tough for us. The boat race is again being held in August second week this year; we’re hopeful of a revival,” he added.

“The second Saturday of August. That’s the date for Nehru Trophy Boat Race from the start, except for the last couple of occasions. The NRI crowd is also having their holidays during this time. Last year, many of them missed the event with the change of date. This time a lot of inquiries are coming in,” said Jobin Joseph Akkarakalam, president of Kerala Houseboat Owners' Federation.

He demanded the authorities charge fees for the operation of houseboats in the vicinity of Punnamada tracks based on the passenger capacity. “Currently, they are charging up to Rs 50,000 for a single boat, without considering passenger capacity,” he added.

While the pandemic forced the cancellation of the Nehru Trophy Boat Race in 2020 and 2021, the event was held on September 4 last time. 

However, the demand seen during the pre-flood and pandemic times is still a distant dream for boat owners.

“The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war proves a damper. A sizeable number of tourists usually arrive from Russia. This time, the inquiries from that country are far too few,” Vinod pointed out.

The Alappuzha-Kottayam region, known as the hub of the houseboat industry, has nearly 2,300 houseboats. The tariffs vary from Rs 8,000 to over Rs 20,000 for a 22-hour stay (11 am to 9 am the next day) based on the category of the boat -- deluxe, premium or luxury.

Houseboats in the luxury category provide all the modern facilities of a premium hotel: AC bedroom with an attached toilet, Jacuzzi shower panel, sit-out, sundeck, separate kitchen serving three-time freshly cooked meals and refreshments prepared by an onboard chef.

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