Alappuzha: Backwater tourism season has begun with expectations of surplus annual revenue of Rs 100 crores to be netted in by domestic tourists. A curious brand called Houseboat Food and a village expedition through the backwater is marketed this time.
Even though there is a marked decrease in the number of foreign tourists, domestic visitors arrive in large numbers even during the off-season period from May to September. It is estimated that last year there was a turnover of Rs 300 crores in houseboats and associated industries. Nearly 40 per cent of it is accounted in foreign exchange.
Since more number of houseboats than what could be withstood by the backwater was being built and pollution and other risks increased, government has stopped giving building permission for new houseboats from last New Year. The government’s announcement that Kerala Inland Vessels (KIV) Rules will be reformed for houseboats has not been put into practice yet.
The houseboat owners’ associations informed that on an average houseboats run services for 25 days a month during season and 12 days a month during off-season. The daily tariff for houseboats with one bedroom to those with conference facilities ranges from an average of Rs 7,000 to Rs 60,000. The rates could vary depending on the number of occupants. Day cruises stretching from morning 11 am to evening 5 pm, one day cruises starting from noon 12 to next day morning 9 am and cruises lasting more than a day can be facilitated in these houseboats.
If in the initial days it was just pleasure trips in these houseboats, nowadays business meetings, international conferences and trips of diplomatic importance also take place in them.
A total of 55,364 foreign tourists visited Alappuzha, the headquarters of houseboats in the year 2013. The domestic tourists numbered to 2.25 lakhs. If we estimate that 90 per cent of the tourists arriving in Alappuzha choose houseboats cruises, about 2.5 lakhs people must have traversed the backwaters of Alappuzha last year. If we add the figures for Kumarakom, Kollam and Ernakulam, more than three lakh people have cruised in the houseboats last year.
Small and Big
There are houseboats with A/C and non-A/C, having one to ten bedrooms. Some of them have conference hall facilities with seating for 120-150 people. In the present circumstances a double bedroom houseboat will cost from Rs 30 lakhs and upwards. There are houseboats which cost above Rs 1.5 crores based on the facilities. A two bedroom boat will have crew in the form of Shrank (Captain), Engine Driver and Cook. Depending on the size and the number of passengers, there will be up to six crew members in a houseboat including Lascar and Helper.
Number of houseboats
Number of licensed boats – 635 Number of boats that have applied for license- nearly 200
Even though law stipulates that unlicensed boats should not run services, unofficial figures indicate 1,000-2,000 houseboats in Alappuzha, Kumarakom, Kollam and Ernakulam. Hundreds of houseboats are defunct from being outdated.