Alappuzha tourism badly hit by elections, heatwave

Generally, the October-March period is the foreign tourist season in Alappuzha, while the April-September season, marking summer vacations and festival holidays in India, sees more domestic tourists visiting. Photo: Representative image/File Photo

The great Indian elections are usually seen as an eventful period bringing good businesses to public and private enterprises alike. However, one sector that has been left high and dry by the event is the tourism sector, especially the houseboat sector, which forms the backbone of Alappuzha's tourism prospects. The unprecedented heatwave condition Kerala faced this summer season is also not helping the cause. “It is bad,” said Jobin Joseph Akkarakalam, president of Kerala Houseboat Owners' Federation. Traditionally, houseboat tourism in Alappuzha hinged on two seasons - the October-March season and the April-September season. The October-March period is the foreign tourist season, while the April-September season, marking summer vacations and festival holidays in India, sees more domestic tourists visiting.

“Before elections, in the October-March season, we recorded reasonable success. But since then, there has been a steep fall in the arrival of tourists,” added Jobin. “This year, families have largely stayed away from making leisure trips. The ongoing election is one of the main reasons for it. While many stayed back to cast their votes, the worry of election-related issues was also a deal-breaker. The intense heat is the other reason,” said Jobin. There are a little over 800 registered houseboats in Alappuzha. Accounting for the houseboats registered in other districts that are operating here and the unregistered ones, the number comes close to 1,500. The sector employed around 5,000 people directly, with another 20,000 families indirectly benefiting from it. The lull in the tourism sector affected them all.

Backing Jobin's claims, Philip Kurian, manager of a houseboat service provider, said: “Every field in the tourism sector has been affected. The inquiries are low compared to last year. There is a 40 per cent dip in bookings. The entire industry is affected.” In 2023, Kerala witnessed a record 1.88 core domestic tourists visiting the state. Alappuzha accounted for about 3.5 per cent of it, which came to about 6.5 lakh. Of them, around 2 - 2.25 lakh arrived during the summer vacation time. While the number of domestic tourists arriving for April this year is not available yet, Jobin concurred with the assessment of a 40 per cent dip in business. “During the summer vacation time, if the business is good, we get an occupancy rate of about 50 to 60 per cent. This season it has gone below 30 per cent; so yes, business is down by almost half compared to last year.”

The situation is even worse in the homestay sector. While it is the houseboats that bring tourists to the district, homestays profit from a part of them opting to stay behind for a longer duration. “So, if the houseboat sector business dips, it impacts us too,” said Vijo Job who works as operations manager at a homestay provider. “For us, the booking has been extremely low this summer, almost 80 per cent less compared to last year.”

However, Rajesh P R, a veteran guide, put the blame squarely on the general elections. “If heat was a problem, then we should have seen a heavy rush in places like Munnar. I have also been to Tamil Nadu as part of tour packages and the turnout there is just as bad as we see here. So, I would say the current dip in tourist arrivals is because of the ongoing elections only.” Rajesh blamed Alappuzha's tourism marketing also as one problem. "While domestic tourists may have their reasons to hold off their travel plans, there is no reason for foreign tourists to avoid their trip. The summertime is traditionally the time of temple festivals and such, which if properly marketed, can attract hordes of foreign tourists to Alappuzha. But alas, it is not happening.” According to Jobin, there are signs of a slow and steady revival of the business. “There has been a slight increase in bookings recently, probably because polling has concluded in Kerala. We can only hope this trend keeps up in the coming days.”

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