THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kumarakom seems to suffer from the unfortunate fate of award movies. No other destination in the country has been showered with national and global awards like Kumarakom, but the number of tourist arrivals to the backwater paradise is virtually insignificant. The Kumarakom show, in short, is not pulling in the crowds. With six national awards to its credit, Kumarakom is unquestionably the Responsible Tourism capital of the country. Innumerable global laurels, too, have come its way; the latest being the the World Travel Mart Responsible Tourism Award it won in London. But Kumarakom accounts for just 5.11 percent of foreign tourists coming to the state, and a mere 3.7 per cent of domestic tourists visiting the state.
“I am not sure whether Kumarakom is being effectively marketed as a Responsible Tourism destination,” said Abraham George of Intersight Tours and Travels, and former Kerala Travel Mart president. “Along with Alappuzha, Kumarakom too is marketed as a backwater destination. However, it is Alappuzha that provides a more natural backwater experience, and so the preference is always for Alappuzha over Kumarakom,” he added. He said that this was reflected in the fact that the total number of rooms and houseboats were considerably higher in Alappuzha than in Kumarakom.
The State RT Mission coordinator K Rupesh Kumar termed Kumarakom as a work in progress. “In 2008, the total tourist arrivals to Kumarakom were just around 30,000. Now, it is nearly one lakh,” he said. Mr Kumar, however, said that Kumarakom should evolve into a 100 percent RT destination. “Tourism in Kuma-rakom has done a lot for local jobs and environment. But it still has a long way to go in waste management practices,” Mr Kumar said. Except for three (Coconut Lagoon, Abeda Resorts and Kumarakom Lake Resort), none of the resorts and hotels in the area have a waste management tie-up with the RT Mission.
“It is just not enough to win responsible tourism awards, the fruits of such responsible practices have to be seen on the ground,” said Xavier Punnoose who operates a roving boat in the Kumarakom lake. “The lake is littered with plastic and food waste from the houseboats, which function like a law unto themselves,” he added. According to Jose Dominic of CGH Earth, which runs Coconut Lagoon in Kumarakom, the destination runs at full capacity during the season. “During the high season, every bed on offer is taken,” Mr Dominic said. If Kumarakom tourism is saturated, extending RT activities to nearby places like Vaikom, which the RT Mission is planning, could address the issue.