After a gap of five months, Kodaikanal is now open for tourists. To begin with, tourists can visit select places like Bryant Park, Chettiar Park, Coaker’s Walk and Rose Garden. E-pass is mandatory for tourists visiting the princess of hills. But those travelling in public transport are exempted. The continues for boating, horse riding, cycling and trekking.
The decision to allow tourists to Kodaikanal appears to provide respite to tourism and allied industries, especially the hospitality sector. In reality, it does not serve the purpose. Neither the business community nor local people are happy with the decision. Instead, it creates panic. Local residents call it a “hasty” move.
There is no doubt that the revival of tourism is necessary because Kodaikanal’s economy is highly dependent on tourism only. The entire town has been waiting for this announcement, because Corona-driven shut down collapsed its economy, paralysed trade, wiped out small businesses and left thousands of local people such as cab operators, shop keepers, street vendors, tourist guides, photographers, horse riders, cycle lenders and roadside eatery owners jobless. Approximately, 15,000 families depending on tourists’ spending are paupers now. Lockdown has also caused bankruptcy in almost all small business and commercial enterprises.“No tourists, no money” is the present situation of Kodaikanal. Tourism department too has incurred a huge loss. Bryant Park’s annual income is around Rs.1 crore to Rs.1.5 crore. Revenue is almost nil during the first season.
The first season is already over. The second season will come to an end by October. The second season is ideal for tourists coming in groups, mostly from Kerala and Karnataka.
Normally, bulk tourists ensure additional income to hotels, cottages, traders and cab operators. Ban on inter-State travel prevents the arrival of bulk tourists to Kodaikanal this year. Tourists from southern districts and Chennai have started visiting the hill during weekends. Allowing tourists without opening prime tourist spots is contradictory. It is neither beneficial to traders nor useful to tourists. The main objective of opening the hill – revive the economy and restore the livelihood of local people – is defeated now, traders say. It has an adverse impact also.
Closure of tourist spots forces tourists to move into interior villages, mostly free from Corona pandemic. Even as top revenue officials personally monitor tourist flow at Silver Falls check post, surveillance in rural pockets is very difficult as many tourists stay in stay-homes and private guest houses, cottages and bungalows on the outskirts, which do not come under the purview of monitoring authorities. Uncontrolled tourist movement in villages will certainly brighten the possibility of Corona spread because a majority of tourists do not follow preventive measures. Kodaikanal needs a balanced approach.
RBI Governor Saktikanta Das has suggested reviewing and revamping multi-pronged supportive policy interventions in the tourism sector. A closer look at some of the global leaders in travel and tourism such as France and Spain would suggest not only policies to support tourist infrastructure but also the safety and security of people.
Kodaikanal needs such multi-pronged supportive policy interventions to boost the economy and allay fears of local people.
Even before Kodaikanal, Uttarakhand lifted all travel restrictions on inter-State tourism activities to boost the economy and protect the livelihood of local people. But, it has not hesitated to impose conditions, including mandatory Corona negative certificate or seven days’ hotel booking. Tourists have to upload their Corona test report on the official web portal before starting their journey. Their medical reports will be verified at all border check posts. Same rules are promulgated in Mussoorie hill station. Tourists cannot enter Mussoorie after 10 p.m. and before 7 a.m.
Similarly, a health verification centre can be set up at the Ghat Road entry point and Perumal Malai to check tourists coming from Palani and Batlagundu. Boosting economy of Kodaikanal, while containing Corona pandemic, solely depends on the implementation of precautionary measures and tourism-supportive policy interventions.
Travellers must comply with local protocols – wearing masks and maintaining social distance. Strict vigil at prime tourist locations is a must. Such measures will protect Kodaikanal from Corona pandemic, protect livelihood and revive the hospitality and tourism sector. Mere closure of tourist locations will worsen the health and economy.