COVID-19 has wreaked havoc in travel and tourism with a sharp drop in attendance and the industry facing job cuts and low margins. The Hindu takes a look.
Three people testing positive for COVID-19 and the government’s declaration of the outbreak of “state calamity” came like a thunderclap for the tourism industry. This happened when the industry was on the road to recovery from Cyclone Ockhi, the Nipah outbreak and the flooding of the past three years.
Although the government has withdrawn the calamity warning within five days and the fear that has gripped the state is gradually fading, tourism, one of the fast growing sectors in Kerala, is in the spotlight. crossroads.
With the spread of COVID-19 in Europe, the Middle East and Latin America, vacationers, domestic and international, have preferred to stay away from the destination and leisure tourism has almost been wiped out. There was no resumption of the massive cancellations that poured into hotel and resort reservation desks during the first week of February as soon as positive case reports arrived.
Vacationers spotted at the destinations were mostly free independent travelers, Europeans who had prior reservations and preferred to fly ignoring travel advisories, and those who came for wellness therapies.
âLeisure tourism has been affected and it is one of the worst crises facing the tourism industry. The control in the three international airports creates panic. Both domestic and international tourists feel that Kerala is not safe for traveling and vacationing. Our occupancy rate which was 65% in March of last year has fallen to 30% this year, âsaid Rajgopal Iyer H., CEO of UDS Hotels.
COVID-19 has taken its toll on the vibrant hospitality industry. Tourist arrivals have fallen sharply and the industry has faced job losses and low margins. With vacationers preferring not to travel, online portals have been hit hard.
âEven domestic tourists prefer to play it safe because the virus epidemic is spreading rapidly. Hoteliers are the most affected as operating costs have increased and the rate has not been increased after the Nipah outbreak in 2018. There are discounts even in online portals.
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Vacationers need the assurance that the destination is safe to travel, which is lacking, âsources said on an online portal.
The downturn has affected all categories of the hospitality industry, including Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) hotels, host families and MICE (meeting, incentive, cConvention, exhibition). Even KTDC’s top-notch properties, such as Tea County and Bolghatty, have been affected, with occupancy rates falling during the Jan.15 to February period ranging between 25-30%. However, the Samudra property in Kovalam has resisted the trend.
âThe situation is alarming because no other request arrives at the reservation offices. The reservation window is 30 to 45 days. March and April are going to be worse, based on reviews from hotels, resorts and tour operators. The epidemic in the Middle East is also of concern, as the airports in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha are hubs for travel to Europe and the United States, âsaid Dillep Kumar PI, CEO of Intimice Hospitalities.
The high season for foreign tourists is from November to February and for domestic guests from April to May, August to September (Onam Festival) and December to January.
Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran admits there have been more cancellations after reports of COVID-19 than in the case of the Nipah outbreak. Against all odds, the tourism sector has grown by 70% over the past four years. Revenue increased from 26,689.63 crore in 2015 to 45,242.74 crore in 2019.
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Mr Iyer said the state should have avoided the label of “disaster” because it sparked panic and negatively impacted the industry. âIt will take time to bounce back. The government should send the message that Kerala is safe. Local media in other states should be used to promote the destination. Reducing the room rate is not a solution, âhe added.
However, EM Najeeb, senior vice president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators and chairman of the Kerala Tourism Industry Confederation, said the state’s declaration of calamity helped prevent the spread of the infection. and confine it to those who returned from Wuhan.
New marketing strategy
âThis is a serious situation and people will avoid India and Kerala like other places where positive cases have been reported. The government should take action to instill confidence in travelers that Kerala is vacation safe. The marketing strategy needs a change and new source markets need to be tapped for Kerala, âMr. Najeeb said.
Kerala Tourism marketing should focus on domestic tourists as there is no point in promoting the destination overseas as the virus outbreak is spreading rapidly. Instead of focusing on tour operators and travel agents, Dileep said domestic tours should focus on corporate clients as they will contribute to incentive travel and MICE tourism. âKerala Tourism has been able to overcome the challenges over the years through marketing strategies and this will also be used to overcome the current crisis,â Mr. Surendran said.