The deserted Kochi on September 27, 2021 during shutdown. Image Credit: AP

Thiruvananthapuram: There is a stark irony on September 27, 2021, the day that is observed as World Tourism Day, a day meant to observe “tourism for inclusive growth” as stated by the World Tourism Organisation – One of India’s tourism stars, Kerala, remained shut owing to a hartal (general shutdown).

Ever since Walter Mendis, a creative director at Murdra Communications penned the tagline ‘God’s own Country’ for the Kerala tourism brand in 1989, the state has been a frontrunner in India’s tourism industry, but stoppages like Monday’s have been its bane.

This time the stoppage is even more painful because Kerala’s tourism industry has been severely impaired owing to the COVID-19 pandemic as other destinations across the world have been.

Shutdowns are common in Kerala, but Monday’s stoppage was one that was least expected, coming as it does just when the tourism industry is struggling to its feet after the pandemic-induced reverses.

The pan-India call to stop work on Monday was made to support farmers who have been opposing three new legislations of the federal government made last year. But nowhere else was the stoppage imposed as severely as it was in Kerala.

Public transport was curtailed, shops and business establishments were affected and examinations were postponed on Monday as the ruling Left Democratic Front and the opposition United Democratic Front backed the hartal.

Breaks hopes

“Keralites were expecting a new normal after the catastrophe of the pandemic, with an end to the extortionist practices like hartal and ‘nooku kooli’ (gawking fee). Sadly, we are disappointed”, one of Kerala tourism industry pioneers Jose Dominic told Gulf News.

“At this rate, the sufferers are going to be the youngsters of Kerala, who are job seekers. We are even seeing some investors going out. This is something we have to seriously take note of”, Dominic said.

From different parts of the state, there were reports of business establishments being forcibly shut by those supporting the hartal.

Promoters of a bakery in Kochi, Kerala’s business capital, said two of their outlets were forcibly closed by trade unionists even as customers were in the shop.

Founder chairman of IBS Software Services, V.K Mathews said hartals had little relevance any more. “Hartals as practiced in Kerala are nothing but a promotion for the respective political parties. It has little effect, and no result in terms of what the parties declare as their objective.

“The only struggling party in a hartal is the common man. Their lives are disrupted, their livelihoods are disrupted. In fact political parties must look at different ways and means to promote themselves in terms of their relevance”, Mathews said.

Before the pandemic struck, Kerala tourism had attracted 1.20 million international tourists in 2019, besides more than 18 million domestic tourists, and the sector generated Rs 363 billion, counting both direct and indirect revenue.