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Domestic travellers and wellness seekers pull Kerala tourism out of the woods

Hotels in Kerala are heavily booked for May and June, indicating a busy summer season for the tourism industry in the state.

May 14, 2022 / 11:05 AM IST
Unlike those who travel for surgery, people who come for beauty and wellness treatment usually encourage tourism prospects as they are able to visit tourist destinations after their treatment. (Ayurvedic ghee photo courtesy Megumi Nachev)

Unlike those who travel for surgery, people who come for beauty and wellness treatment usually encourage tourism prospects as they are able to visit tourist destinations after their treatment. (Ayurvedic ghee photo courtesy Megumi Nachev)

A surge in domestic arrivals since the beginning of the year has revived Kerala’s hopes of shoring up its tourism revenue after two disastrous years that saw a sharp slide in the number of travellers to the state due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hotels in Kerala are heavily booked for May and June, indicating a busy summer season for the tourism industry in the state.

“There is a 50 percent rise in bookings. The first few months of the year saw a jump in tourists driving in for holidays from the neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka apart from the locals. But after March there is a rush of tourists from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Delhi,” said George Dominic, secretary of the Association of Approved and Classified Hotels of Kerala.

People unable to travel overseas for leisure because of the pandemic uncertainties and the Russia-Ukraine conflict are increasingly choosing Indian tourist destinations. “We had cut the rates by about 25 percent to attract visitors for the summer. But now there is so much rush for occupancy that it seems discounts won’t be necessary," said Dominic, who is also one of the owners of CGH Earth group which runs a chain of hotels.

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Kerala is one of India’s top tourism destinations. But a collapse in visitor arrivals particularly from overseas in the wake of the pandemic sent shock waves through the state’s travel and hospitality industry. At stake is a sector that contributes to 10 percent of the state’s GDP and accounts for over 23 percent of employment in the state.

With foreign tourists continuing to stay away, the struggling travel industry in the state is banking fully on domestic visitors to get out of the woods. From a high of 18,384,233, the inflow of domestic tourists plunged to 4,988,972 in 2020 before improving to 7,537,617 last year. “But the arrivals have been so strong this year that we are hopeful of surpassing the pre-covid levels in the second quarter,” said Rajesh C.G., research officer, Kerala Tourism.

The number of foreign visitors dropped from 1,189,771 in 2019 to 340,755 in 2020 and unlike the case of local visitors, fell further to 60,487 last year with the non-operation of flights and a rise in pandemic cases abroad.

Also Read | Bumper May-June expected as travel bookings rise

Kerala is also hoping for a rebound in medical tourism with people coming for ayurvedic treatment. The sector had been growing in the past few years till the pandemic struck.

“The flow of medical tourists has improved and is nearly back to normal. People from developed countries flock to India mostly for surgical treatment because of a 30-70 percent reduction in cost,” said Joseph Thomas, founder director of Medlounges, a family health and wellness centre.

But it is the people who come for beauty and wellness treatment who usually encourage tourism prospects as they are able to visit tourist destinations after treatment.

“Kerala has a big advantage when it comes to cosmetology patients. Our main competitors are Thailand and Sri Lanka. The latter is not doing well now because of economic turmoil,” Thomas, who has clinics in Kerala, Mumbai and Oman, said.

While the bigger players in the segment can set up centres abroad, the small and medium ones depend on agents who act as middlemen in attracting patients. “But they charge large amounts as commission. If the government takes steps to regulate it, it will go a long way in helping medical tourism,” he pointed out.

Bookings for treatment at ayurveda centres are also looking up. “There is increased demand this year from people from other states, Indian nationals living abroad and foreigners,” said a spokesperson of Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala, which has 200-plus rooms at its headquarters in Kottakkal in Malappuram district.

Also Read | Shruti Shibulal: "There is good demand from domestic tourists for wellness and treatment"

The state’s tourism department is now also promoting caravan and adventure tourism to attract domestic visitors. “As part of adventure tourism we are planning to go surfing at Kappad beach in Kozhikode. A surfing training camp will be held at Varkala (Thiruvananthapuram district),” said Rajeev G.L., deputy director of Kerala Tourism.

The state will also host snake boat races in league format like the IPL, after a gap of three years. It was successfully introduced in 2019 but the pandemic forced the government to cancel the event in the two subsequent years.

The recently concluded Kerala Travel Mart, a buyer-seller meet held in Kochi by a society of service providers in the state who work for promoting state tourism, has decided to focus on rejuvenating domestic tourism in the next two years. The biennial event that was carried forward from last year, saw a record 55,000 business meets in three days with 1,500 domestic buyers from 25 states and 300 international buyers from 59 nations.



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PK Krishnakumar is a journalist based in Kochi.
first published: May 13, 2022 12:52 pm
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