Convert vacant houses into Airbnb-type accommodation: Thummarukudy at ATTOI webinar

Kerala should look to convert its vacant houses into Airbnb-type accommodation to increase the state’s carrying capacity, Muralee Thummarukudy said on Thursday. Delivering a talk at the online webinar organised by the Association of Tourism Trade Organisations India (ATTOI), Thummarukudy said Kerala has over one million vacant homes, which can be effectively utilised to generate tourism revenues.

“In Kerala, one can find 5-bedroom houses even in remote areas. So, finding space should not be a problem,” he said. The challenge would be incentivising that possibility. 

Right now, Kerala feels content with the number of tourists that visit the state every year. But the numbers can be much more. “We could do 33 million tourists a year,” said Thummarukudy, who is the Chief of Disaster Risk Reduction at the United Nations.

According to him, Kerala has not even scratched the surface of its immense tourism potential, as it continues to depend on a small number of tourism destinations. “We should not limit our tourism hotspots to just 4 or 5. Kerala can turn into a tourism product right across the state. Every place in Kerala has its uniqueness,” he said.

Incentivising travel is also a crucial aspect during this period, when travellers are risk-averse. “If Kerala can come up with an insurance product that will take care of any health-related issues for tourists, that can make a huge difference,” he said. Many countries have created such safety nets for travellers, so that they feel encouraged.

Thummarukudy countered the notion that many of the tourists come to Kerala because of its natural beauty. “Kerala is beautiful. But I have seen more beautiful places in other parts of the world. Many of the tourists come to the state to witness its way of life and socio-cultural aspects and not necessarily its landscape.”

Tourism is on the verge of a resurgence worldwide, he said, as people are beginning to feel frustrated about being locked down. They have been confined to small spaces for months. “Soon their travel instincts will be triggered,” he said, as people are not used to having their movements restricted.

“Many people are realising that they have been spending on all the wrong things. Their biggest regret now is that they haven’t travelled enough when they had the chance. This is true for the United States and Europe, not just Kerala or India.”

Already, there is some shift in momentum. British low-cost airline EasyJet has seen its traffic increase and Bank of England has said the economic slump caused by the pandemic will be less severe than expected. Though it’s a fact that thousands have lost jobs in the travel industry, many others have been able to cut back on their expenses and create bigger savings during this period.

In the other session, Claudia Wagner, managing director of German tour operator FIT Reisen, said Kerala’s fame as an Ayurvedic destination will help it to bounce back faster than others. “Ayurveda is known for boosting immunity and Kerala is its home. The state can be a hub for wellness tourism post-Covid,” she said.

There are plenty of takers for yoga, meditation and wellness holidays at this point, Wagner said. “Due to the lockdown, people feel a lack of exercise. Also, their food intake has gone up. As a result, the younger clientele is looking for vacations where they can indulge in yoga, meditation and mindfulness. Rejuvenation holidays will help Kerala to remerge fast as a tourism destination of choice,” she added.

Earlier, Kerala’s tourism minister Kadakampally Surendran, while inaugurating the webinar said the state’s tourism sector will be back at its peak once travel restrictions ease. Tourism Secretary Rani George said that since everyone’s top priority now is health, Kerala’s prowess in Ayurveda can play a big role in the state’s tourism promotion. She hoped that the state would be able to come up with a financial aid package soon.

ATTOI President Vinod CS moderated the webinar and PK Anish Kumar, former president of the organisation, delivered the vote of thanks. Kerala Travel Mart (KTM) President Baby Mathew Somatheeram also attended the webinar, which drew more than 100 participants.