The tourism industry, which can make substantial contributions to the economy and the labour force in Kerala, has reached a dead end. Where will this pollution-free industry, which generates 25,000 crore rupees of revenue and provides jobs to 25 lakh people, go? Kerala made great strides in this sector without substantial contribution from the government.
However, the conditions, the restrictions and the tax reforms imposed by the government, are chocking this sector. If the government takes steps to develop basic infrastructure, create a unified tax structure and avert unnecessary protests in this sector, then it will be possible to maintain Kerala as God’s own country.
None of the tourists seek the kindness of the government. The tourists who come to Kerala seek only better roads, clean water, unpolluted beaches and backwaters, and safety. What they like and look for are our heritage, traditional food, original agricultural practices and natural beauty.
Not all foreign and domestic tourists who come to Kerala want liquor. However, it should be possible to give it to those who need it. Tourists mostly like beer and wine. Along with them, toddy, which could be considered as our traditional drink, and neera should also be provided. Also, the ambience of our toddy shops should be improved so that a favourable atmosphere is created for a respectable visit.
Another valuable asset of Kerala is its houseboats. Here too pollution is the villain. The surge in their number creates another crisis. Another important attraction for tourists is homestay. Of those entrepreneurs who make arrangements for tourists in their homes, many are women and ordinary people.
Homestays are always the favourite places of tourists. What make them attractive are their security, traditional food and low cost. Restrictions at different levels, the licence raj, and the rise in electricity and water tariffs are stifling these small ventures. The most number of homestays in India are in Kerala.
When the southern states compete for tourists, a unified tax structure is necessary in this sector. And it is not helpful that Kerala stands apart. A vital factor for the growth of tourism is the protection of nature. Kerala cannot boost tourism by killing the environment. The main agenda of tourism is the protection of traditional ayurveda, original agricultural practices and ancient art forms.
Sudden strikes and hartals badly affect tourists and the general public alike. We have seen tourists who land here unwittingly on hartal days struggling to find a way out so many times. Even now that situation has not changed.
When the Kerala Mart, which started one and a half decades ago, completed its four-day eighth edition, many new suggestions came up. After backwater tourism, MICE (meetings and conventions) destination, ayurveda tourism, medical tourism and responsible tourism, the message sent by Kerala Mart this time was “marriage in God’s own country”. If stages for marriages have to come up in this place where controversies rage, then everyone will have to approach things prudently.
The editorial “Let the world come to Kerala”, published in Manorama in the backdrop of the travel mart, is noteworthy and timely. If the world has to come to Kerala, the suggestions in it should be given importance.
(The writer is the former tourism minister of the state)