Rain drain: Monsoon of discontent for tourism

Rain drain: Monsoon of discontent for tourism

Rain drain: Monsoon of discontent for tourism

The monsoons have so far been just a trickle, and obviously, the trickle-down effect on India’s tourism sector has been equally dismal. Budget travellers and those looking for attractive discounts on stay like to plan their trips at this time of the year, when their pockets are filled with adequate disposable income. Players in the industry typically bring in monsoon packages offering discounts to tap the drop in tourist inflows.

However, this year, the monsoons have been more fickle than usual, and the arrival of the South West monsoon has not provided much respite for the hospitality sector. Hotels and resorts, gearing up for a rise in their business, are now experiencing a downturn due to below average headcount of tourists, both domestic and foreign.

Monsoons are currently 24 per cent below the long period average (LPA), which is worse than the deficiency seen in fiscals 2009 or 2012. While 2009 turned out to be a drought year, rains recovered sharply in the latter half of the season in 2012, according to Crisil Research.

The hospitality industry serves a conglomerate of allied industries like hotels, resorts, lodges, restaurants and travel agencies, and tourism is the main demand driver. Industry body Assocham has in a recent report estimated the Indian tourism industry’s potential to grow fourfold to Rs 25 lakh crore by 2022.

The number of foreign tourists visiting India annually is reckoned to increase from 75 lakh currently to over 1.3 crore by 2024, while revenues from domestic tourism are likely to grow by 8.2 per cent in 2014 from 5.1 per cent last year.

Despite the impressive figures, India’s current share of tourist arrival is merely 0.64 per cent, says Assocham.

Imperfect storm

However, the El Nino effect has clearly overpowered the natural onset and movement of the monsoon this year, crimping foreign tourist inflows and deterring domestic travellers planning to vacation in southern India. General Manager of Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation, G. Bheemasankara Rao, told The Hindu last week that Vishakhapatnam seems to have maximum tourism potential among coastal areas, though the deficient monsoon could pose a threat.

Gavin Antony Meyn, operator of Kochi-based travel agency Atlas Tours and Travels, said that tourist inflow, both domestic and foreign, has been low this monsoon season (June- July) by about 10-15 per cent when compared to the corresponding period last year.

Meyn also holds the flight fare rise and regular rupee fluctuations responsible for the declining travel ticket sales. “Tourists are rather willing to travel to international locations such as Malaysia and Singapore than visit Kerala or other Indian destinations at the same price they pay for domestic tour packages,” Meyn said.

Coastal locations cater to the needs of a limited number of travellers, while forest lodges and resorts render services to the other half. Jungle Lodges and Resorts, a group operating across several forest patches in Karnataka, receives a large number of nature lovers throughout the year.

Managing Director Sanjai Mohan said, “Monsoon being the lean season, sees only countable visitors due to which we offer special tour packages and additional discounts to drive up sales. Even though this year, tourist density has been less during the June-July period, occupancy has gone up 5 per cent, mainly due to improvement in road conditions and management improvements.”

Cox & Kings Ltd relationships head Karan Anand said that monsoon tourism is a common trend among young couples as well as those who prefer travelling to quieter locations. During monsoons, being the lean season, hotels inevitably expect lesser crowds, and introduce special packages to drive sales.

“The delayed monsoon this year has not had any impact as during this period, holiday package costs come down by about 20-25 per cent which makes it attractive for people to travel. This being a low season, hotels are willing to offer discounts as well. Moreover, with airlines also offering discounts this is a very attractive period to travel,” he said.

Too little, but not too late?

During the monsoons, tourist traffic is usually low at popular destinations, which earlier drove hotels to shut down for annual maintenance. However, they soon realised the potential of marketing popular destinations through additional discount offers, Anand said.

Kerala has been particularly adept at promoting monsoon tourism as the ideal time for partaking of ayurvedic treatments which are believed to be more effective during the rainy season. “This has also led to a growth in monsoon tourism,” Anand points out. Karnataka, bracketing a diverse range of tourist spots, both historical and water-based, such as Hampi, Gokarna, Bharachukki falls, Abby and Jog falls, along with Bangalore, draws a large percentage of tourists from India and overseas, especially during and post monsoons, due to its pleasant climate.

This year, due to delayed and below average rainfall, many tourists have been disappointed and delayed their trips to the state.

Due to the predominance of global warming and changing climatic conditions, certain parts of Karnataka confront unbearably high temperatures, eagerly awaiting the rains for their revival. On one hand, while India’s agricultural produce has been directly affected by delayed rains, thereby inflating food prices, on the other, outstation tourists have postponed their trips, dampening the state’s hospitality sector.

But a turnaround from the heavens is not ruled out. “This year, we believe there is a higher probability of a turnaround – just like in 2012. This is consistent with the IMD (India Meteorological Department) forecast of rainfall deficiency to reduce to less than 10 per cent by the end of the season. But despite the recovery, we believe that agriculture growth will remain muted at 1 per cent in fiscal 2015 as a strong statistical base effect from last year’s growth will kick in,” says Crisil Chief Economist Dharmakirti Joshi in a research paper released last week.

Either way, as yet, there is no deluge to expect — for tourists or the industry. Even as the holidaymaker brigade is blue-pencilling its calendar to include autumn or winter, the hotels will be regrouping to get their act back on track in coming months.