It is hit due to proximity to Chengalam, where two were tested COVID-19 positive
Sailing through the canals of Kumarakom can normally be a struggle for a tourist for most of March. It’s peak tourism season and all water bodies in this village, nestled in the backwater landscape of Kottayam, would normally be heaving with visitors from abroad.
But the usual lines of tourists at the boat jetty here have all disappeared. The houseboats idle along the canal banks while the local businesses have shut shop. A destination that receives over seven million visitors annually, Kumarakom is now ghastly empty.
According to officials with the Tourism Department, the outbreak of COVID-19 has dealt a huge blow to this internationally acclaimed backwater destination, which was on the track to recovery from the setbacks caused by the floods of the past two years. The destination has witnessed a total cancellation of hotel and holiday packages while a zero-demand situation is likely to extend over the next month as well.
“While the tourism industry across the State is on a rapid retreat, Kumarakom is the worst hit, considering its proximity to Chengalam, where two persons were tested COVID-19 positive and several people are under quarantine,” an official said.
Though the village received a fairly good number of foreigners last month, the disease outbreak has caused panic among the local people. “People are wary of interacting with guests, especially foreigners. A few days ago, they even forced a tour operator to cancel the house boat rides for foreign guests at a location near Vaikom,” he added.
Among the most affected are operators of the houseboats and small-sized shikara boats, who have huge bank loans to repay. All the 120-odd house boats and 58 small boats that operate out of Kumarakom for have been docked for over a week now.
“While the last two years have been particularly depressing, this must be the most extensive hit to the sector as this time, even a cut down in fare per hour is not working. The cancellations and zero bookings have forced the boat employees to take up casual work to make both ends meet,” said a houseboat owner.
The local economy, primarily dependent on tourism, too reeling under the shock. The workers and artisans enlisted in the village life packages, restaurants offering ethnic cuisine, and the local transport operators have all witnessed a sharp fall in daily income.
Confirming the stoppage of bookings till March 31, K. Roopesh Kumar, coordinator, State RT Mission, said the bookings would be revived based on directions from the government. “We have received an advisory from the District Medical Board against the free movement of guests through the interiors as a precautionary measure against the spread of virus. Accordingly, the bookings for about 500 guests have been cancelled,” he said.
Arun Kumar K, secretary, Chamber of Vembanad Hotels and Resorts (CVHR), said the situation had been particularly severe for the middle and bottom-line operators. “With zero bookings, even the high-scale resorts are finding it difficult to meet their fixed costs. More than the fall in the global travel and tourism, what is even more depressing is the uncertainty of its impact on the sector,” he said.