Festival season beckons domestic tourists to backwaters; KTDC urged to woo cruise ship travelers as well

Alappuzha: With guests, mostly domestic travelers from North India, making a beeline to Punnamada Lake in Alappuzha for the Diwali holidays and the Christmas festive season, a party mood has gradually set in over the lakeside villages of the coastal town, blessed with its enchanting backwaters. However, industry players have struck caution, pointing out that a lion’s share of the revelers are domestic tourists and the high demand is being experienced only on weekend days. They have now urged the Tourism Department to step in, carrying out marketing activities to woo the cruise ship travelers arriving at Kochi.

The first of the chartered cruise ships, Celebrity Edge, carrying 2918 passengers mostly hailing from the US, Australia, and Canada, arrived at the Kochi port the other day. 34 more foreign cruise liners are scheduled to call on the Kochi port in the coming days. “The rush is now limited to weekends alone and with the international crowd yet to arrive, most boats are now operating for a maximum of 10 days a month. The boat operators are incurring huge losses on days when they do not operate as they’ve to employ staff throughout the season,” pointed out Vinod V, President of the All Kerala House Boat Owners Association.

While the cruise season in Kochi presents an opportunity for offsetting this loss, the tourists arriving on board the cruise liners mostly prefer the hill stations over the backwater landscape. “A high-intensity marketing campaign with Alappuzha as its core is the only way to address this shortcoming,” he added. The Tourism officials too are open to a more vigorous marketing campaign to lure more foreign tourists to Alappuzha but cited the lack of funds as a major hurdle.

“We’re ready to take up the campaign jointly with the houseboat industry players. The plan is to extend incentives to travel companies. Already a couple of them have included the backwaters in Alappuzha in their tour packages. But the numbers are few. We’re ready to do aggressive marketing, with the help of DTPC Ernakulam, but need the support of the houseboat industry players,” said Anoop Kumar K, Secretary of the District Tourism Promotion. According to tourism officials, the tourist boat jetties at Punnapra and Pallathuruthy are the most happening area with the houseboats and small-sized shikhara boats crisscrossing the lake and chugging along the sleepy canals without a break during the weekends and on holidays.

“The rush has been unprecedented when compared to the previous years as the entire region is now buzzing with tourism-related activities. This has come as a major boost to the backwater tourism sector, which seeks to shrug off the challenging developments in the previous seasons,” tourism officials pointed out. Families from North India constitute over half of the total guests. Anticipating the season to hit its peak by December, all properties and houseboats are planning special events for the revelers while the entire destination is beginning to spruce up for the occasion.

Anticipating the season to hit its peak by December, all properties and houseboats are planning special events for the revellers while the entire destination is beginning to spruce up for the occasion. Photo: Krishna Kumar KE

Jobin J Akkarakkalam, President of the Kerala House Boat Owners Federation said the ongoing season will extend up to January 5. “November marked a sharp recovery from the previous month, which witnessed a lower-than-expected turnout. With the festival season in North India, guests have started to drop in but the footfalls still have not reached the expected mark,” he said. With the rise in tourist turnouts, the average fare of houseboats varied between Rs 7500 to Rs 15,000 across different segments.

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