Explorers, wanderers & Travel enthusiasts are inching back outdoor after being in indoors all these months of lockdown to break the chain. On current indications, the restriction may drag on till the end of this year in varying intensities and impositions. No one really knows, or can accurately predict how all this is going to pan out, going forward. Perhaps in a Covid world, the only certainty is uncertainty.
The lockdown restrictions, and the prolonged stay indoors has helped most people to become religiously responsible travelers. Most have decided to slow down or pursue travel ideas and adventure passions long forgotten. With enough buoyant holiday mood at this point, leisure seekers will find the avenues available now.
Shield from Corona and unconfined travel would be the new tourism mantra and here Kerala would score with its vast list of backwater spots.
But, how is post covid travel going to be like? When will it be completely safe to venture out? What’s open, what’s not? Let us examine
1. The Gods Own Country Is Reopening Sooner Than Expected
From the day in March 2020 since the first nationwide lockdown was set forth, travel and tourism were standing still in Kerala. Travel enthusiasts who earlier used to plan frequent getaways to near and far off places were stuck within the four walls of the house. Although many governments are still advising against non-essential leisure travel, a host of popular backwater destinations in Kerala have eased their Covid-19 border restrictions and are readily welcoming tourists back.
The tourist season in Kerala ideally starts from September and goes on till March. It is generally felt that the summer vacation 2020 never really befall on earth and every one have an intense desire to travel out. We are getting impression that as the fear of the virus is gradually fading, the commendable way in which Kerala had handled COVID-19 will work to its advantage. Also, the tourist spots have been opened following the standard operating procedure, such as ensuring people are wearing face masks, are sanitising their hands, and are following adequate social distance. Moreover, water and food would not be available on the premises as per the guidelines.
2. Locals Before Tourists
With no hope of international tourists arriving anytime soon, travel and tourism bodies in the state of Kerala have leaned towards domestic and local tourism — identifying unexplored places in the state, encouraging and generating interest in the same among Malayalis and offering the same experiences at lower rates — thereby sustaining the distressed sector.
There was a constant demand for special initiatives from people who’re strapped in their houses for long 06 months. Every one desires to travel or venture out to unwind and inbreathe fresh air. So tourism stakeholders came up with a scheme named Keralam Kaanaam to provide customized experience and affordable prices to local folks. The scheme also aims to lure newly-married couples.
Is Kerala and its backwaters ready to explore again?
June onward the government in Kerala had started lifting lock-downs and easing out travel restrictions in a bid to restore the severely impacted tourism industry with strict Covid-19 SOPs. While many will argue it’s not safe to travel, some have already traveled propitiously, some have started planning (or at least thinking) about their much-needed travel break in tranquil backwater locations.
State Administration have given permission to reopen only limited tourist spots, such as Kumarakom, Alleppey, Vaikom and Nileshwaram for the tourists then on. Reportedly, other famous locations such as the famous hill stations, beaches, etc., would be opened in a phased manner after consultation with the tourism officials. Destination development authorities have drawn up plans and still maintains hygiene in tourist destinations when tourists arrives & vacates. This proactivisim is the reason that backwater destinations are now open and this would motivate people to make travel plans once again.
So with adequate distancing norms and other safety measures in place it is safe to travel in Kerala. However, hotels houseboats operating in containment zones will not be permitted to resume operations. If you’re one of many travelers eagerly awaiting news on where you can laze for the backwater ambiance or for backwater cruises, here’s a guide to the top destinations which are open as well as others making plans to reopen.
3. Safest Tourist Spots in Kerala Right Now
Many of the resorts in Kumarakom have been receiving small groups of guests and all COVID-19 protocols are being followed since the first unlock. But the houseboats after tied up in Kumarakom houseboat terminals for more than six months in view of the pandemic, have started touring and accommodating local travelers on the Vembanad Lake again from 7th Sep 2020.
It was on March 10 this year that houseboats had stopped their services. As a result, the backwater routes and the Lake Vembanad were wearing deserted looks. But with the tourist arrivals and the gradual steaming of houseboats the destination has waken up from slumber.
The iconic Kumarakom backwater, which draws an average of 2,000 to 2,500 visitors on tourist season, saw just 15 visitors in the recommencing day. The tourist footfall is likely to remain poor as long as there are restrictions on inter-State travel. To ensure social distancing, the norm is to accommodate only 50% of the carrying capacity in each houseboat or shikkara. You are expected to remain onboard houseboat/place of stay, without getting down at any places in between during Kumarakom backwater cruise.
Temperature checks have also been set up onboard houseboat, and it is still necessary to wear a face mask onboard & sanitize the hands before and after the cruise. Also, tourists arriving in the destination must have downloaded India’s coronavirus tracking app Arogya Setu app and their details registered in it affirmatively. Further all have to strictly follow social distancing norms.
Tourism department is mulling resumption of houseboat operations in Alleppey backwaters from 15 Oct 20. A whole set of measures and protocols would be in place before allowing operations.
The Kollam district administration is, however, yet to take a call on reopening tourist sites. Admin Authorities, after chairing a meeting with stakeholders of the tourism sector in Kollam, said a decision on throwing open the popular backwater destinations such as Munroe islands, Ashtamudi lake would be taken soon.
According to a Travel & Leisure magazine, Vaikom similarly announced a phased reopening plan of its tourism destination, following the prevailing covid protocol which includes putting in place a “Safe to Stay & Travel” quality certification for cleaning measures that homestays, canoes, houseboats and tour providers must obtain.
The Covid negative certificate is mandatory for the crew of houseboats & canoes. The backwater cruises should not venture into any designated containment zones or markets. Temperature screenings, oxygen reading, disinfecting, and social-distancing guidelines have been put in place. Lodging will be limited to 50% occupancy until Sep 30, when the policy will be reevaluated.
4. Time to Get Outdoors than Indoors
Many wanderlust souls those who love the outdoors are looking for an escape from the monotony of being indoors at home all day. There is some respite out there if you know where to look, ie outdoor secluded destinations. Experts says that being outdoors is lower risk for coronavirus transmission than being indoors.
Being outside offers other benefits, too. It offers an emotional boost and can help you feel less tense, stressed, angry or depressed. There are many low risk out door activities you can enjoy in your favourite backwaters be it Kumarakom or Alleppey or for that matter anywhere else. Get moving with these low-risk outdoor activities during the pandemic:
Picnic to your favorite backwater destination & dining onboard houseboat are some.
5. Is this good time to visit backwaters ?
The best time to visit this land of enchanting backwaters is when there is less crowd, isn’t it nice to have a slice of paradise all to yourself once in a while. Pristine backwater-scapes will be virtually empty, giving you lots of room to roam out and enjoy the peace and quiet.
Because there aren’t as many people traveling in this unlock restriction period, it often translates to more flexibility for booking last minute to those who are traveling or planning travel to backwaters. You could get to enjoy the luxurious stay of a star hotel within your budget – thanks to the heavy drop in prices the hotels & houseboats are offering in order to draw more people from their home quarantine. Outside that, tours, transportation companies and even restaurants are offering huge bargain prices.
This unlocks period would allow you to frame a good picture of favorite backwater hot spots, which in turn would make your traveling friends jealous. Overall you could have a most memorable trip.
6. The New Normal on Travel – Mask, Sanitisers & Thermal Scanning
Destination Management councils have set out a common framework providing criteria to safely and gradually allow tourism activities. Also health protocols for Kerala houseboats, hotels and other forms of accommodation, to protect the health of both guests and staff/crew. These measures include reduced capacity; sanitisation protocols sufficient health system capacity being in place for local people and tourists; robust surveillance and monitoring and testing capacity and contact tracing.
All of tourist attractions have made it mandatory for visitors to wear a mask.These guidelines will allow people to safely stay at hotels, camping sites, backwater cruising and other leisure outdoor areas.
What Precautions should one take while travelling during the Covid19 pandemic?
As we enter Unlock 4.0, here’s a roundup of all the destination-wise pre-requisites /guidelines you need to keep in mind before hitting the backwaters.
1. Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.
2. With out fail don a mask when moving out of your accommodation on when in public.
3. Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
4. Maintain appropriate social distance[at least 1 metre (3 feet)] between yourself and others.
5. Never shake hands instead greet people with a wave, nod or a Namaste bow.
6. You need to refrain from coming in contact with the elderly (above 60) people and children below 10 years.
7. Avoid eating out in public places, and follow proper food hygiene practices. And, if you have to eat outside, maintain social distancing and eat freshly prepared food that you are sure about the hygiene.
8. Disinfect your car and anything that you come in contact with while travelling.
9. Travel light and book your stay at those houseboats and hotels only where proper hygiene measures are taken, and ensure there are less chances of coming in contact with others.
10. Contact DISHA helpline 1056, if you develop any symptoms (sore throat, fever, diarrhoea, cough, breathlessness) even if mild.