Decline in tourists' arrival a big jolt to Kerala's houseboat business

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Alleppy (Kerala), July 18 (ANI): A sharp decline in the arrival of tourists has badly hit houseboat business in Kerala, leaving most of them in a difficult condition to struggle to sustain their maintenance cost.

According to houseboat owners, only 10-15 percent of 580 houseboats in Alleppey backwaters are doing business, the rest of them are struggling to generate enough business to pay for the their annual maintenance cost and salaries to the staff.

The State President of the Houseboat Owners' Association said, last year, they had a good business even during this lean season in the same period. However, this year has been bleak from the beginning and the houseboat owners fear for the worst to come if the government doesn't take special measures.

"Tourists come here to see the serene and beautiful landscape while cruising on boats. But these days there are hardly any tourists especially the foreigners. And we really have to work hard to get even one booking. As compared to this year, last year houseboats and resorts were full with foreign tourists throughout all the seasons. The government is not showing any interest in developing the tourism sector of this place," complained Johny Mukkam, State President, Houseboat Owners Association.

Alleppey district houses some popular backwaters in the state where tourists, especially foreign tourists, come to enjoy boat rides amid lush and serene surroundings.

For houseboat operators, these foreign tourists are a major source of earnings.

The peak tourist season being March to October here is a time when luxury houseboats and boats can be noticed criss-crossing the backwaters.

But for much of the season in 2008-2009, most of these houseboats remained anchored as less than expected tourists arrived. The ones, who came, were reluctant to pay hefty charges.

A houseboat has to get about 120 nights per year to survive after paying for its maintenance costs, staff payments and taxes. Therefore, operators target to cover these days during the peak tourism season running from October to March.

This year, however, the houseboats have been able to get business for less than 70 nights.

It costs about Rs. 5,000 to book an overnight three-bedroom houseboat and Rs. 2,500 for a single-room boathouse during lean period. However, during the peak season the tariff shoots up to Rupees 25,000 to 35,000 or even more for the same.

Each boat is manned by a three-member crew, including a cook, navigator and helper, but owing to the recession-hit business many houseboat owners are not able to pay their employees.

The cost of building a single room houseboat with moderate furnishings comes to between Rs. 2.5 million to 4.5 million rupees. Apart from this, the annual maintenance is estimated at over 100,000 rupees.

A houseboat has to pay high service, luxury taxes in addition to Rupees 3,000 a year to the Pollution Control Board.

Owing to all these expenses and not enough earnings, the houseboat association is now requesting the government to work out a more viable tariff to attract all kinds of tourists in all seasons.

According to the government data, about 7.59 million domestic tourists and nearly 600,000 foreign tourists arrived in Kerala in 2008. This year, however, domestic and foreign tourists arrival is being feared to dip by 30 to 40 per cent. By Juhan Samuel (ANI)

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