The recent move by the government of Kerala to ban the serving of alcohol, spirits and beer in two, three hotels has left the tourism industry in a tizzy. Needless to say it has created the wrong kind of ripples as this was least expected by one and all. In fact, Kerala has been in the forefront of promoting tourism and began its successful branding and marketing campaign in the late eighties much before other states (with the exception of Jammu & Kashmir) had realised there was hidden potential in tourism. While there is no doubting the intentions of the authorities to curb alcoholism, this move will definitely have an effect on tourism, especially, domestic and international tour groups.
While travelling with a group in July this year I realised that the hotel in Fort Kochi we were staying in had surrendered the liquor licence because of numerous challenges and costs involved in maintaining one, as per new regulations introduced in April 2014. This inconvenienced the group as a pint of beer was what the group looked forward to each evening while having dinner, forcing us to visit a lone restaurant having a permit serving spirits and food. There were logistical issues of moving the group in cars, as roads are too narrow in Fort Kochi for mini and large coaches. Now comes an even stricter law, wherein spirits can only be served in four, five-star hotels and heritage properties. This effectively puts the `glass that cheers’ out of reach for tourist class travellers.
What prompted the authorities to take such an unprecedented step? The primary reason is that the government is keen to stamp out growing incidences of alcoholism across the state. Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country. Notwithstanding this disturbing statistic alcoholism needs to be tackled in a different manner. By attempting to put it out of reach it will only compel local stores to illegal and often unhygienic means to produce and consume the same. Dozens of people consuming spurious alcohol and perishing are stories which are not unheard of in India. Alcoholism is a disease which fortunately doesn’t affect all consumers of spirits. Group therapy and de-addiction centres are best methods of tackling the issue.
One hopes for a more pragmatic approach from the authorities keeping in mind tourism is the biggest revenue generator in ‘God's Own Country.’ A state that has been in forefront of promoting tourism for close to three decades could find itself in conundrum of sorts. 'Coz not many tourists would like sipping beer served from a teapot into a tea cup! Nor would travelers want to pay through their nose for a glass of wine. Hassle and tension free holidays is what visitors’ desire in today's transparent world.