No liquor policy is for the long run. It has to be renewed every year. My government believes total prohibition is not practical—Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan
The biggest factor that is adversely affecting the arrival of tourists in Kerala is the liquor policy adopted by the previous Oommen Chandy government, according to a survey conducted by the Kerala tourism department. The survey has suggested reconsideration of the liquor policy, besides improvements in infrastructure and increase in air connectivity.
The survey says Kerala is facing increasing competition from neighbouring tourist destinations, such as Sri Lanka and Goa. As many as 106 hotels, resorts and tour operators took part in the survey. 32 per cent of the respondents consider the liquor policy as a barrier to come to Kerala.
Hard liquor is sold in Kerala only at outlets of the Beverages Corporation, where no tourist can be expected to be a customer, and at five-star hotels. Wine and beer are served at a few hundred restaurants and hotels. The liquor policy has hindered the growth of the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Events) business in the state, wherein large groups of tourists are brought together for a particular purpose.
Of 106 respondents in the survey, 68 wanted the Kerala government to change its excise policy immediately.
Kerala’s share in the inflow of international travellers to India went up from 1.5 per cent in 1985 to 22 per cent in 2014-15. But the figure has come down by 6 per cent in 2016. And, this is helping Sri Lanka. The island nation has capitalised on the decrease in tourists to Kerala this year, and has increased its tourist inflow by more than 20 per cent.
The chief minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan told THE WEEK: “No liquor policy is for the long run. It has to be renewed every year. My government believes total prohibition is not practical. It does not solve the problem of alcoholism prevalent in society. Sale of alcohol is on the rise in Kerala, despite the liquor policy of the past UDF government. So, what was its use? I have always believed that creating awareness against liquor is the only way to tackle the problems created by consumption of liquor.”
Said the tourism minister A.C. Moideen to THE WEEK: “The tourism sector in Kerala has been badly affected because of the liquor policy of the previous government. The decision was taken in haste and has not served its purpose.” Moideen said the government would take an appropriate decision on the liquor policy soon. "It is a policy decision to be taken by the government as a whole. We will take a call on it,” he said.
As Sebastian Paul, former MP, pointed out, “Worldwide, availability of liquor is a consideration while selecting venues. If there is curb on liquor, not only will there be a drop in tourist arrivals, but event organisers would also stay away and would not like to host meets or competitions. But we cannot promote liquor. At the end of the day, everything has to be balanced.” Paul said the government would have to rethink the liquor policy immediately. “I am not sure when that is going to happen. But a change in policy is definitely in the cards,” he said.
Kerala’s tourism secretary, V. Venu, admitted that the effort that Kerala had made over the years in the tourism sector had been adversely affected in a big way by the new liquor policy. So, what is the way out? “The solution is that the excise and liquor policy has to be amended in order to ensure enough foreign liquor in hotels in Kerala,” said Venu. The needs of the visitors or tourists, he said, had to be taken into account for a state to attract tourists of all nature. “Changing the liquor policy into a more liberal regime will have a direct impact on generation of tourists,” he said. “I am a marketing man. Perception in the market matters. Hopefully, Kerala will attract more tourists in the days to come with a change in perception,” he said.