Sri Lanka ready to steal a march over Kerala's Rs 22,000-crore tourism industry

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Sep 9 2014, 16:35pm hrs
KeralaAs much of Rs 5,000 crore of the overall tourism revenues in the state, is in foreign currency, especially from United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland and Gulf countries. Image: Kerala Tourism
Even as all the bars in Kerala get ready to shut down from September 12, there is a fear that the hospitality business in the neighbouring Sri Lanka is getting ready to steal a march over Kerala's Rs 22,000-crore tourism business.

The new liquor policy that is guiding the state towards total prohibition has started giving hiccups to the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, exhibitions) industry already. Is it true that beach-bashes or a lake cruise may end up having to impress an alcohol-detector cop asked a recent email sent to a nervous travel agent. There are apprehensions that those who had made bookings early may ask compensation for breach of contract.

Sri Lanka, which enjoys less than a-third of the annual revenue of Kerala tourism, could come up as the major competitor, in terms of foreign tourists. Last year, over 10 million domestic tourists and 8 lakh foreigners visited Kerala. In a strong bid to emerge as a tourism hub, Sri Lanka has been adding to the number of beer pubs and bars to create a so-called European ambience and wean away tourists.

The 16 five-star hotels in Kerala have been spared of de-licencing in the liquor policy. About 712 bars have been told to shut shops after Onam. The state-run Beverages Corporation has hundreds of outlets, but 10% of these will be shut down every year. Sundays have been made dry days. A visitor to Kerala, who cannot afford five-star hotels, can legally have a bubbly binge only at a willing friend's house. Competing tourism destinations have been quick to utilise this shift to throw a spoilsport perception shadow on the God's Own Country brand.

For instance, the Rolls Royce company had booked with a major hotel group for a week's vacation through Kerala's beaches, backwaters and hill stations for about 100 senior executives in October. Within a week the new liqour policy came in and the customer had second thoughts. The state's hospitality business had to use great persuasion to get such deals confirmed.

Wine is part of international dining culture and if a destination puts limit on it, foreign tourists will flock to, wherever it is freely available, says Jose Dominic, adviser to India Tourism and former president of Kerala Travel Mart (KTM). State tourism officials are glum. Kerala tourism minister AP Anil Kumar has expressed his displeasure at the liquor policy, saying his senior party colleagues like chief minister Oommen Chandy had not consulted him before making this decision.

As much of Rs 5,000 crore of the overall tourism revenues in the state, is in foreign currency, especially from United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland and Gulf countries.