Kerala plans economic proposal to revive industry: Tourism minister Surendran

Kerala tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran has stated that the government will come up with a new economic proposal in the next few days, listing a clutch of measures to help the industry survive the corona crisis. He said tourism secretary Rani George has submitted a note to the government, which will now be considered for discussion and subsequent ratification.

Addressing the various tourism industry stakeholders through a virtual conference on Tuesday, the minister said the note will be discussed with the chief minister and the finance minister. “Tourism is a sector that had generated Rs 45,000 crore last year, moving up from Rs 36,000 crore the previous year. It’s our responsibility to save it,” the minister said.

The state of Kerala has survived disasters like Nipah and floods, and now it’s facing a bigger crisis. “The COVID-19 crisis has happened at a time when we had fully recovered from the slump of 2018,” he said. “We will overcome this too.”

“Unfortunately, all our important markets like Western Europe and the US have been badly affected. Ever since WHO declared it as an epidemic there has been a total shutdown on travel and travel bookings got cancelled the world over. It’s a very difficult phase, but I can say we will come back strongly. As you can see there is focus on Kerala from across the world. The world has seen how we have tackled the crisis. Over the next few days, we will come out with a proposal for industry to tide over this crisis,” he promised.

Kerala Travel Mart (KTM) president Baby Mathew said temporary loans with low interest (4% or even lesser) may be required for the industry. Electricity tariff concessions and deferment of loan repayments are what the industry requires at this point, Mathew said. In response, minister Surendran said these issues are being considered. The government will discuss the tariff concessions for high tension users with the electricity minister and will negotiate with co-operative banks about the possibility of giving soft loans.

ATTOI president Vinod CS drew the minister’s attention to creating a welfare co-operative society in the tourism sector. In response, the minister said that would certainly be possible. “We can definitely create co-operative societies in the sector, if the industry comes forward with a proposal,” he said.

Tourism Advisory Committee Member Anish Kumar PK said the industry is facing cash flow issues. Booking cancellations have meant that money had to be given back to the tourists. “There is no fund for marketing now,” he said.

Jobin Joseph of Spice Routes said that houseboat tourism, which is a high maintenance sector, needs special attention. “If there is some relief on payment of licensing fees that would be great. We employ a number of local labourers. We need to look after them, and hence would request the government to help us further,” he said. The minister assured him that the government will look into the licensing fee aspect. “After all, what is Kerala holiday packages without houseboats?” he asked.

CKTI president EM Najeeb said the pressing issue is about paying the employees their salaries. “There are hardly any revenues. The industry is in a standstill. We need soft loans, an extension of the moratorium offered and a GST holiday for a year,” he said.

Minister assured all the stakeholders that suitable solutions will be found. While admitting that the state government also is going through a difficult period due to lack of sufficient revenues, the minister said everything will be done within the government’s limitation to ensure that the industry survives the pandemic.