After flood, tourism in India’s Kerala left mud-bound

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Onlooks watch a fishermen cast his net while standing on the edge of a road that was breached by recent flooding of the Edava Nadayar Kayal river that connects North and South Paravur in Kollam District in the south Indian state of Kerala on August 22, 2018. (AFP)
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An aerial view shows partially submerged road at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 19, 2018. (REUTERS)
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A fuel station remains partially submerged underwater in Kozhikode, about 385 km north of Trivandrum, in the south Indian state of Kerala, on August 17, 2018. (AFP)
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An elderly Muslim man lights a bidi, or hand-rolled cigarette, after offering Eid prayers at a mosque near a flood affected area on the outskirts of Kochi in the southern state of Kerala, India, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. (AP)
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People wait to be rescued in a country boat in a flooded area at Kainakary in Alappuzha district, Kerala state, India, Friday, Aug. 17, 2018. (AP)
Updated 29 August 2018
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After flood, tourism in India’s Kerala left mud-bound

  • Some 1,500 houseboats are tied up at Alappuzha, going nowhere, with many of the owners still paying off loans taken to buy the boats
  • Last year, one million foreigners visited Kerala, along with 15 million domestic tourists, but state government and industry officials reckon the flood will result in losses for the tourism sector of $357 million

NEW DELHI/ALAPPUZHA: More than a week after the floodwater began subsiding, animal carcasses are still floating in Kerala’s backwaters, and in places a nauseating stench rises like a wall when the wake from a passing boat breaks the surface. These inland lagoons running parallel to the coast are one of the biggest tourist draws in India’s most southwesterly state, but the stain of death and devastation wrought by Kerala’s worst flood in a century will take longer than a season to wash away. The quaint towns and villages scattered between the lush forests and paddy fields bordering the backwaters are now communities in despair.
Houses in low-lying areas are still submerged, roads are waterlogged and the sewage from drains have washed into channels that are too slow-moving to effectively flush out the effluent.
Sudarsanan T.K., a houseboat owner in the town of Alappuzha, had been looking forward to the peak tourist season, but as his home disappeared under 2.5 meters (eight foot) of water his family now have to live aboard the boat he would otherwise be renting to tourists from Europe, China, Malaysia and India. “I’ve nothing left, but this houseboat. I don’t know how I can repay my bank loan in this condition. The bank may take back my boat. I will have nothing at all then,” Sudarsanan, a 64-year-old father of two, told Reuters.
Some 1,500 houseboats are tied up at Alappuzha, going nowhere, with many of the owners still paying off loans taken to buy the boats. Sudarsanan owes about $8,600 on the loan taken eight years ago to buy the boat, and he could have earned up to $7,000 by December if the deluge hadn’t washed away his hopes. Hundreds of people perished in the flood and more than one million of Kerala’s 35 million people were forced to abandon their homes and take shelter in relief camps.
Blessed with natural beauty, fertile land and bountiful seas, Kerala has been dubbed “God’s own country” by its people, but the Marxists running the state government reckon it will need $3.57 billion to rebuild over the next two years.
“Kerala’s GDP growth may fall by 2 percent,” state Finance Minister T.M. Thomas Isaac told Reuters, forecasting growth of 6 percent for the financial year ending next March.
Crops have been lost, the construction industry was dead for a month, and tourism, which contributes 10 percent of the state’s economy but accounts for about 25 percent of jobs creation, has been badly hit.

FESTIVAL WASHOUT
For discerning tourists looking for a more laidback Indian experience, Kerala has it all — long sandy beaches, lazy waterways, charming, historic towns like Kochi and the cool, forested hills of the Western Ghats.
Kerala doesn’t draw numbers like the northern tourist circuit, the so-called “Golden Triangle” running from New Delhi to the Taj Mahal in Agra, and Jaipur’s palaces in the desert state of Rajasthan, but it has carved out a sizable niche.
Last year, one million foreigners visited Kerala, along with 15 million domestic tourists, but state government and industry officials reckon the flood will result in losses for the tourism sector of $357 million.
The floods struck just as Kerala was gearing up for Onam, the harvest festival which is one of the highlights of the state’s cultural calendar.
Festivities, including the spectacular Vallam Kali races involving traditional war canoes, some manned by more than 100 paddlers, were postponed.
“Kerala has lost out on one of the best seasons, as the calamity struck during the 10-day run up to Onam,” said Ranjini Nambiar, who heads a travel consultancy.
Thousands of volunteers have joined a clean-up campaign mounted by the state, and Shilendran M., an executive with the CGH Earth luxury hotel chain, expected some kind of order to be restored within the next few weeks.
“The state administration is working on a war footing,” said Shilendran, whose group has more than a dozen properties in Kerala. “We are limping back to normal.”
Hardly anywhere in the state escaped the calamity.
Ernakulam district, the biggest industrial and tourism contributor to Kerala’s economy and home to the historic city of Kochi, suffered major damage, and its busy international airport was shut for nearly two weeks.
Munnar, a hill resort overlooking the tea and cardamom plantations high in the Ghats was cut off, as bridges were washed away and landslides blocked roads.
Once every dozen years a bright purplish-blue bell-shaped flower called the Neelakurinji, blossoms on the slopes around Munnar — and this was one of those years.
The state tourism had marketed 2018 as the Kurunji year, but people in Kerala are more likely to remember the mud. ($1 = 70.0900 Indian rupees)


Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

Updated 21 September 2018
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Mass tourism threatens Croatia’s ‘Game of Thrones’ town

DUBROVNIK, Croatia: Marc van Bloemen has lived in the old town of Dubrovnik, a Croatian citadel widely praised as the jewel of the Adriatic, for decades, since he was a child. He says it used to be a privilege. Now it’s a nightmare.
Crowds of tourists clog the entrances to the ancient walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as huge cruise ships unload thousands more daily. People bump into each other on the famous limestone-paved Stradun, the pedestrian street lined with medieval churches and palaces, as fans of the popular TV series “Game of Thrones” search for the locations where it was filmed.
Dubrovnik is a prime example of the effects of mass tourism, a global phenomenon in which the increase in people traveling means standout sites — particularly small ones — get overwhelmed by crowds. As the numbers of visitors keeps rising, local authorities are looking for ways to keep the throngs from killing off the town’s charm.
“It’s beyond belief, it’s like living in the middle of Disneyland,” says van Bloemen from his house overlooking the bustling Old Harbor in the shadows of the stone city walls.
On a typical day there are about eight cruise ships visiting this town of 2,500 people, each dumping some 2,000 tourists into the streets. He recalls one day when 13 ships anchored here.
“We feel sorry for ourselves, but also for them (the tourists) because they can’t feel the town anymore because they are knocking into other tourists,” he said. “It’s chaos, the whole thing is chaos.”
The problem is hurting Dubrovnik’s reputation. UNESCO warned last year that the city’s world heritage title was at risk because of the surge in tourist numbers.
The popular Discoverer travel blog recently wrote that a visit to the historic town “is a highlight of any Croatian vacation, but the crowds that pack its narrow streets and passageways don’t make for a quality visitor experience.”
It said that the extra attention the city gets from being a filming location for “Game of Thrones” combines with the cruise ship arrivals to create “a problem of epic proportions.”
It advises travelers to visit other quaint old towns nearby: “Instead of trying to be one of the lucky ones who gets a ticket to Dubrovnik’s sites, try the delightful town of Ohrid in nearby Macedonia.”
In 2017, local authorities announced a “Respect the City” plan that limits the number of tourists from cruise ships to a maximum of 4,000 at any one time during the day. The plan still has to be implemented, however.
“We are aware of the crowds,” said Romana Vlasic, the head of the town’s tourist board.
But while on the one hand she pledged to curb the number of visitors, Vlasic noted with some satisfaction that this season in Dubrovnik “is really good with a slight increase in numbers.” The success of the Croatian national soccer team at this summer’s World Cup, where it reached the final, helped bring new tourists new tourists.
Vlasic said that over 800,000 tourists visited Dubrovnik since the start of the year, a 6 percent increase from the same period last year. Overnight stays were up 4 percent to 3 million.
The cruise ships pay the city harbor docking fees, but the local businesses get very little money from the visitors, who have all-inclusive packages on board the ship and spend very little on local restaurants or shops.
Krunoslav Djuricic, who plays his electric guitar at Pile, one of the two main entrances of Dubrovnik’s walled city, sees the crowds pass by him all day and believes that “mass tourism might not be what we really need.”
The tourists disembarking from the cruise ships have only a few hours to visit the city, meaning they often rush around to see the sites and take selfies to post to social media.
“We have crowds of people who are simply running,” Djuricic says. “Where are these people running to?“