Amid a global coronavirus scare and with all three positive cases of the epidemic in the country being reported in Kerala, the southern state has been pounded with mass cancellations of hotel bookings and tour packages. A senior official of the state Tourism Department said the exact number of cancellations was not yet available, but agreed that repeated instances of floods and epidemics were affecting the industry.
"As of now, the exact numbers are not available. But industry sources told us that many hotel bookings, including that of KTDC (Kerala Tourism Development Corporation), have been cancelled," the official told PTI.
KTDC help desks at various centres were receiving enquiries from people wanting to know the situation in the state, he said.
"As of now, the situation in Kerala is under control. There is no need to worry. But still the people are worried and some have cancelled their bookings," the official said.
"There are 15-20 per cent cancellations after the reporting of the coronavirus cases. But there are bookings also," Jose Dominic, CEO of the CGH Earth Group of Hotels, told PTI.
"We (Kerala) have a reputation that we will put travellers' health first before commercial interest," he added.
Travel and tour operators, however, fear the state's tourism sector is likely to be severely hit, especially because the Kerala government has declared the outbreak a 'state calamity' and Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran recently admitted that the sector has suffered a setback.
E M Najeeb, senior vice president, Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), said tour programmes and packages are being cancelled widely in the state and declaration of the epidemic as a 'state calamity' by the government would adversely impact the economic situation.
"We completely appreciate the steps taken by the government to protect infected persons, create awareness among the public and tackle the situation. But as far as the tourism industry is concerned, such measures will scare the people. Not only tourism, all business activities of the state will be affected," Najeeb told PTI.
One of the most sought after tourist destinations in South Asia, 'God's Own Country' has been hit by the coronavirus just as it was recovering from the Nipah outbreak and two consecutive monsoon floods during the last two years, the worst in a century.
According to those associated with tourism in the state, the government had aggressively launched promotional advertisements in the domestic and international markets after the floods to revive the sector.
Kerala's serene beaches, tranquil stretches of backwaters, lush hill stations and exotic wildlife offer an enchanting experience to travellers worldwide and the tourism industry is a major contributor to the state's economy. It accounts for over 10 per cent of the GSDP (gross state domestic product) and provides employment to over 1.5 million people in the state.
The peak season for foreign tourists is from November-February while for domestic guests it is during April-May, August-September and December-January.
According to Tourism department sources, during the 2019 calendar year, it was projected that there would be an 18 per cent growth in the domestic and 8 per cent in foreign tourist arrivals.
In the first nine months of 2019 (January to September), domestic visitors to the southern state increased by 16.48 per cent as against a 4.8 per cent rise in foreign tourists' arrivals.
According to T K Manzoor, managing director of the Bekal Resorts Development Corporation (BRDC), despite the floods and Nipah, there was a remarkable 40 per cent growth in foreign tourist arrivals in 2019 up to September in North Kerala's Kasaragod and Kannur districts.
"We hope to manage the present catastrophic situation. In the coming fiscal, Malabar Tourism is expected to record an uptrend though more efforts have to be put in," he said.
Praveen Muraleedharan, an entrepreneur who runs a couple of resorts in the state, said uncertainty loomed over the industry due to the health scare.
"We are getting lots of cancellations. Many confirmed hotel bookings, events and conferences have got cancelled. Industry is extremely worried about the business. We don't know from when we can start taking bookings," he said.
Muraleedharan said the industry was in the past affected by 'hartals' (strikes), floods and Nipah.
"Earlier 'hartals' used to affect our industry. Even now, the situation is not different. Sabarimala protests, two consecutive floods and landslides in Wayanad, Nipah, anti-CAA protests and now coronavirus. All are directly affecting the tourism industry. Inflow of tourists and domestic tourism are affected," he said.
Three medical students from the state studying in Wuhan University in China have tested positive for the infection and 2,528 people have been put under home quarantine. Ninety-three people are in isolation wards in various hospitals across the state, according to the latest official figures.
The three positive cases have been detected in Thrissur, Alapuzha and Kasaragod.