Now north Kerala lures tourists with homestays

By Jeevan Mathew Kurian,

Kozhikode : Beaches, rivers, mountains, forests, ayurveda – though north Kerala has everything that brought 515,808 foreign tourists to this state last year, it received only six percent of them. But that is changing, thanks to the start given by Wayanad district.

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The state’s six northernmost districts – Kasaragod, Kannur, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Malappuram and Palakkad – have a basic problem, lack of infrastructure for tourists. In the hill district of Wayanad, individual entrepreneurs are putting up homestays – a perennial favourite with tourists.

“The district now has around 40 homestays. Most of them have come up in the last three years,” says K.V. Biju, the secretary of the Wayanad district tourism promotion council (DTPC).

Fifteen of the 40 have already got classification certificates from the Kerala Tourism Department.

“We come to know about these homestays largely when we process their application under the classification scheme,” Biju says. “There may be many others, but we have no way of knowing about them.”

The homestay option in Wayanad is still not widely known abroad. “Most of the tourists coming to Wayanad at present are IT (information technology) professionals from Bangalore. Only five percent of total tourists (who visited the district last year) are foreigners,” says Biju.

Wayanad district still needs around 600 more rooms to meet the demand at the peak tourist season.

“In Wayanad there is a shortage of rooms. We need around 1,000 rooms; but we have only 400 now,” says Biju.

K. Ravindran, general secretary of Malabar Tourism Organisation, says: “I think there are around 60 homestays in Wayanad. But we have to see how many of them offer quality service to tourists.” Most of the homestays have come in the last two years, he adds.

Hills and forests are by no means the only attractions on offer in the Malabar region – as north Kerala is known.

In Kozhikode, Perincheri Mani along with 10 others is tapping the potential of river tourism. Mani takes tourists on a cruise up and down the picturesque Chaliyar river. “We get foreign customers,” Mani says. “Many of them are Arabs who come to the nearby resorts. We offer them a cruise on our 12-seat boat.” A 10-kilometre cruise costs Rs.600.

Suhas N. and his friends started his tour operating venture Green Hunters last year. He has arranged about 30 package tours by now. “We have tie-ups with around 50 homestays and resorts in various parts of the state. Many of them are located in Wayanad,” he says.

“We also had a few corporate customers, who wanted to organise their get-togethers at resorts.”

The potential of beach tourism remains largely untapped, despite the presence of famous historic spots such as Bekal in Kasaragod district, which has a resort nearby.

“Only a small number of tourists visit the beaches here. The numbers are very small compared to tourists visiting beaches like Kovalam. Foreign tourists are not visiting our beaches here because we lack good infrastructure and proper marketing,” says U.S. Prasad, assistant manager of Bekal Resorts Development Corporation (BRDC).

The BRDC was set up in 1995 to develop an integrated beach destination in Bekal village of Kasaragod district.

Prasad did not think that beach tourism suffers because tourists don’t like being stared at. “People here are not worried much about skimpily clad tourists sunbathing on beaches. The tourists, on their part, are aware of the culture here. We also mention this in the leaflets provided to them. They usually take care to dress in a way that it won’t hurt the sentiments of the people.”

On second thoughts, Prasad added: “This kind of cultural problems could be affecting tourist inflow here. But it is not a major problem.”

According to K. Sajeevan, an official at the district tourism promotion council in Kannur district, the attitude of the locals towards tourists has changed in a big way in north Kerala. “Nowadays, not many people stare at tourists. About 10 years ago this was not the case.”