Friday, March 27, 2009

Malabar tourism holds its breath as drought deepens

2 Mar 2009, ET Bureau

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Building `Brand Malabar’ has been an ongoing engagement of Kerala tourism, but the drought conditions raging in the northern part of the state is giving those efforts a knock down.

Drought conditions and a number of bushfires have led to forest officials closing the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary for a month, thereby dampening plans of tour operators who have made trekking packages for the area.

The closure of the sanctuary is hurting tourism players on both sides of the Wayanad border, in Kerala and Karnataka, and tour operators are not happy about the development.

“All of Malabar is an emerging destination and the state budget had given special attention to development of infrastructure in the area. A lot of properties are coming up around Wayanad, Bekal, Neeleswaram and Kannur.

Closing sanctuaries for such a long period would not help the industry, and whatever problems facing the sanctuaries should be addressed up front”, E M Najeeb, chairman of the Kerala chapter of the Indian Association of Tour Operators told ET.

According to Viji John, managing partner of Misty Woods in Coorg, the closure of the sanctuary affects both states because Wayanad is a key component of most of the tourism packages offered around the Kerala-Karanataka border.

“Most of the popular packages string destinations like Wayanad, Muthanga, Coorg, Bandipur, Mudumalai and Mysore and to lose one of the destinations would be a dampener for tourists who have bought the package in advance”, says Mr John.

According to him, the forests on the Kerala side of the border are greener at the moment, leading to animal migration from Karnataka into Kerala.

Eldo Paul, manager of the Hiliya Resort near Sultan Battery said the closure of the sanctuary would not have too much of an impact on tourism, considering that this is off-season in the area.

Despite the global slowdown, foreign tourists to Kerala had gone up to 5.99 lakh in 2008, from 5.15 lakh the previous year.

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