Munnar needs new master-plan with joint efforts of govt and industry: Blanket Resorts GM Shankar

Shankar R Nair Blanket Munnar

Kerala Tourism should find a solution to improve Munnar’s fortunes by constituting a new body with the involvement of local authorities and industry. If Munnar and nearby areas can be further beautified with a proper vision for the future, it will be a game changer not only for Munnar tourism but also for whole of Kerala Tourism, says Shankar R Nair, general manager, Blanket Resorts, Munnar. In an interview, he says lack of awareness among guests about the places to visit in Munnar along with the activities available, is a concern. If we can do some detailed planning on these challenges of Munnar Tourism, we will get a steady increase in tourist-flow to Kerala, Shankar notes. Excerpts:

Q: Munnar is one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Kerala. Most tourists who visit Kerala tend to travel to Munnar to enjoy the pristine beauty of the hill station. But now unfortunately Covid-19 has struck the world and with it global tourism will also be impacted. Can you please give us a sense of how much Munnar has been affected by the lack of tourist flow due to the pandemic?

A: Tourism is a major revenue source of the people in this region, both directly and indirectly. Hotel and restaurant staff, jeep drivers, taxi, auto rickshaw, merchants, èmployees in shops, street vendors all are deeply affected. When we say this, we have to consider the break in money flow in a vast area from Neriyamanagalm to Vattavada. People in these areas depend directly and indirectly on tourism activities. The governments will lose a lot of money as tax as tourism is one of the leading sources for both state and central revenue.

Q: How did Munnar do last year in terms of tourist arrivals? How will it be this year?

A: We all considered last year it as a period of recovery after the last devastating floods. But the starting of the financial year saw the epidemics and by August there were heavy rains. By season time, (i.e by Dec-Jan), things started to fall in line. Domestic and inbound movements showed positive trends. But in 2020-21, industry expects a recovery by August-September only, though Kerala recovered fast from Covid-19. This means only by January we can expect basic level business, though the market will be open by August or a little earlier (depends on how we are able to control the situation). So the big question how do we sustain ourselves till then.

Q: As a hospitality player, what are the specific challenges faced by the sector here in Munnar?

A: The challenges before Munnar tourism are diverse and to find a long term solution, a high level panel need to study and make a plan that can be implemented.

a) The first challenge is limitation in infrastructure. The parking space in Munnar town is very limited and during peak season what we see is long duration traffic jams which will kill the valued time of guests coming to this hill station.

b) There are very sincere efforts undertaken by the sub collector and DYSP, for further beautifying Munnar. But preserving it also is very important. Kerala Tourism should find a solution for Munnar beautification by constituting a body with the involvement of local bodies and industry. If beautification of Munnar and nearby areas are done with a vision, it will be a game changer not only for Munnar tourism but also for whole Kerala Tourism.

c) Waste management is a vast subject and we have a successful model in Thekkady which can be adopted. It’s known as Clean Kumily Green Kumily. The basic issue with waste management is a lack of a system or establishment like CKGK, which is a consortium of government and industry.

Industry in Munnar is always in support of the efforts of the government, but a channel needs to be worked out to create a more scientific and efficient system.

d) Lack of awareness among guests about the sightseeing places and the activities available in Munnar is an issue. Often, they are misled. The hotel associations in Munnar are continuously making efforts to improve the same.

e) Need to develop various activities in Munnar hills to the standards set by many other international destinations. Munnar needs various activities to engage the guests, so that we can make the domestic travellers to travel to Kerala rather than going for South East Asia destinations.

I strongly suggest, if we can do a detailed planning on these challenges of Munnar Tourism, we will get a steady increase in tourist flow to Kerala.

Q: Munnar has lost a bit of its cold climate over the years. How do you see this? Will it affect tourism? If so, what can be done to restore the cold climate? May be it’s due to increasing pollution and poor waste management.

A: The increase in temperature in Munnar can be attributed to various factors like global warming and environment pollution. Tourism is needed but we have to control pollution. What is required is an eco-friendly and sustainable tourism model. This is something we need to review scientifically.

Q: How can we ensure that we take care of the environment? In the post-Covid era, hygiene will be an important factor.

A: Hygiene is very important and a pandemic like this has created more awareness. But all will end in just discussions if root level systems are not made more effective – right from waste management to hygiene standards.

Q: Do you think we can make use of this time to provide training to the staff? Basically, offer some help to update themselves about the sector, provide soft skills training etc.

A: This is the right time for skill training. Anyway even after resuming operations, the initial 2 or 3 months will be a time to just set things up. This period can be effectively used for SOP trainings and skill development.

Q: Do you think the state government should take steps to offer some concessions with regard to electricity tariffs?

A: KSEB concessions are very much required at least for a year, for both HT and LT connections. In addition, some measures to support employees for their livelihood are required. It may be in the forms of a PF loan to all eligible staff members or low interest loans which they can utilise to give basic salary for employees. Also, we expect a low slab GST for next two years.

Q: What are the steps that the hotels and resorts of Munnar can take to help the hill station regain its old glory?

A: All those who connected to this industry should do a collective effort to bring back its glory. Next two years are very critical. Every guest coming to Munnar and Kerala should feel it’s a better place that offers value for money. If we can do that homework correctly, we can bring back tourism. Smart and cost -marketing and expense control will be important in the present scenario.