By P.T. Bopanna

The Kodagu (Coorg) district administration in Karnataka has taken the right step in closing down tourist spots in the wake of a surge in Covid-19 cases. However, the government has allowed hotels, resorts and homestays to function by adopting standard operating procedures.

The decision to close down the tourist spots has not gone down well with the tourism sector.

President of the Kodagu Hotel and Resort Association Nagendra Prasaid has been quoted as saying: “The situation would have been understandable if it was a nationwide lockdown and a nationwide ban on tourism. However, only Kodagu is made to face the brunt.”

The president of the association should know that Kodagu is perhaps the only place in India where tourism thrives through illegitimate means. There are an estimated 5,000 homestays in the district with over 25,000 rooms. Out of this nearly 60 per cent are being operated without valid licences. Most of the illegal homestays are run by fly-by-night operators from Kerala.

Unlike Mysuru where it has been made mandatory for tourists to have Covid-19 negative certificate to enter tourist spots, Kodagu is not in a position to entertain tourists in large numbers. Unlike Mysuru, Kodagu lacks infrastructure, including hospital beds for corona patients in the event of a surge in the number of cases. Besides, Kodagu lacks personnel to ensure that the tourists follow safety norms.

It is understandable that the tourism sector has been hit badly by the pandemic especially in Kodagu where a large number of people are dependent on tourist revenue to make a living, following a crash in the price of coffee and pepper.

The various hospitality associations and trade bodies owe an explanation to the public as to why they have not protested against illegal homestays who make a killing by fleecing tourists by not paying taxes to the government. This is the time for introspection by the stake-holders to clean up the mess in the tourism sector in Kodagu.

By P.T. Bopanna

Instead of providing basic facilities at tourist spots, the Karnataka government wants to build a heliport in Kodagu (Coorg) district in Karnataka, which would apparently yield commissions and ‘kickbacks’ to ministers and officials.

Karnataka tourism minister C.P. Yogeeshwar has announced that a heliport will be set up in Kodagu under the UDAN scheme of the Union government.

Bhagamandala, a pilgrimage spot which attracts a large number of tourists, does not have adequate infrastructure like a bus-stand, toilets or proper drainage.

Instead of ramping up basic facilities at tourist spots, politicians are only interested in mega projects which would yield kickbacks.

A previous deputy commissioner built a shopping complex at Raja Seat in Madikeri, instead of developing the greenery at the scenic spot. Similarly grotesque structures were built at Talacauvery, the birthplace of river Cauvery. The use of excavators and heavy equipment led to a landslide, killing the priests of the Talacauvery temple last year.

At a time when the district is not able to cope up with the tourist traffic in the week-ends, building a heliport will worsen the situation. Moreover, the completion of the Bengaluru-Mysuru four-laning will bring in more tourists to Kodagu.

With three back to back landslides hitting the district in the last three years, the priority should be to repair the roads and bridges affected by the landslides.

In the circumstances, the government should not go ahead with the heliport project which involves building an airport designed for the use of helicopters.

The announcement by the tourism minister to build restrooms on Hunsur-Sampaje Road, is best left to the private sector as the government agencies are not competent to run such facilities.

The Hotels, Resorts and Restaurants Association president Nagendra Prasad has brought it to the notice of the minister that there is shortage of staff in the tourism department in Kodagu. The government should address this problem, instead of getting involved in high-end projects which would only benefit the real estate mafia.

The Association also brought to the notice of the minister the problem being created by illegal homestays. The government should weed out the illegal homestays which is bringing bad name to tourism in Kodagu.

The Karnataka tourism department has approved 207 homestays in Coorg.

Altogether, 4600 applications have been submitted online for registration of homestays, of which only 207 homestays have been approved. The rest of the applications are being scrutinized.

As per government norms, only those families which possess houses of their own should foray into the homestay business. It is learnt that many of the applicants fail to satisfy this rule.

The Kodagu district administration has called upon the tourists to check into only such homestays approved by the government.

Check out the following link to find out the government approved homestays:

https://cdn.s3waas.gov.in/s3c8ed21db4f678f3b13b9d5ee16489088/uploads/2019/06/2019061161.pdf

By P.T. Bopanna

The Kodagu (Coorg) district administration in Karnataka is indulging in flip-flops on the issue of keeping tourists out of bounds in areas prone to landslides this monsoon, thereby compromising the safety of tourists visiting the hill station.  

In the wake of extensive landslides which devastated large parts of Kodagu last August, experts from Geological Survey of India (GSI) had identified 13 villages as vulnerable to natural calamities.

A few days ago, the Kodagu deputy commissioner Annies Kanmani Joy (in picture) was quoted as saying that the district administration has authorised local authorities to take appropriate precautionary measures, keeping in mind the vulnerability factor.

Following the arm-twisting by the powerful resorts lobby in Kodagu, the Makkandur gram panchayat development officer who had issued directions to homestays and resorts in his jurisdiction against accepting bookings till August 31, has withdrawn the directive.

It may be recalled that Makkandur was one of the worst affected areas in last year’s natural calamity and suffered extensive damage due to landslides.

Reports said the Makkandur panchayat official wrote to the president, Homestays’ Association, Kodagu, informing he had withdrawn the directive against accepting bookings. Further, he asked the Association members to take all necessary precautions if the intensity of rains goes up in the coming days.

According to reports, the members of the tourism industry met the Kodagu DC on Monday and complained that many tourists cancelled their bookings fearing for their safety.

EDITORIAL: The Kodagu DC should get her priorities right. The first and foremost is the safety of the tourists and the local residents. The Makkandur panchayat official had taken the decision to issue notice for closure till August 31, based on the GSI report which had identified 13 villages in Kodagu as vulnerable to natural calamities.

The Kodagu DC should not yield to various lobbies with hidden agendas. Most of the resorts in Kodagu are backed by politicians.

The first and foremost is to ban tourist activities in areas identified by the GSI as vulnerable to landslides. If the DC fails to act decisively, she has to take the responsibility in the event of any tragedy.

 

 

 

 

By P.T. Bopanna

In Coorg, the homestay capital of India, homestays located in landslide-prone areas will be out of bounds for tourists till August 31.

In the wake of extensive landslides which devastated large parts of Kodagu (Coorg) last August, experts from Geological Survey of India (GSI) have identified 13 villages as vulnerable to natural calamities. Accordingly, the Kodagu district administration in Karnataka has authorised local authorities to take appropriate precautionary measures, keeping in mind the vulnerability factor.

Reports said that over 21 homestays and one resort have been served with notices by Makkandur Panchayat against operating their guest facilities till August 31, 2019, as the area is prone to landslides. Further, homestays and resort owners have been warned that they will be solely responsible for tourist safety in case of a natural calamity.

A local official was quoted as saying that the closure notices were issued as a precaution to ensure tourists are not put to risk by landslides and roadblocks.

The vulnerable areas identified by the GSI include the villages of Niduvattu, Baribelacchu, Hebbattageri, Devasthooru, Thantipala, Badikeri, Mukkodlu, Meghathalu, Makkandooru, Udayagiri, Katakeri, Made (Jodupala) and 2nd Monnangeri.

The homestay industry has not taken the closure notice kindly because the homestays had suffered huge business losses as tourists stayed away from Kodagu following the unprecedented rains last year.

The homestay owners in the vulnerable areas have urged the authorities to reconsider their order to close the facilities, keeping in mind the fact that large sums had been spent on repairing the damaged facilities. The government had banned tourism in Coorg from August 16 to September 9 last year following a spate of landslides which struck the hill station in August on account of unprecedented rains. Parts of the state highways had been washed away due to landslides.

 

By P.T. Bopanna

To prevent harassment to tourists, the Election Commission of India should immediately intervene and scrap an arbitrary order reportedly issued by K.A. Dayananda (in picture), the deputy commissioner of Shivamogga in Karnataka, directing hotels and homestays against entertaining bookings from tourists belonging to constituencies going to the polls on April 18 and 23.

Either Dayananda is overzealous or he is ignorant of the law in ordering all tour operators and resort/hotel owners to verify the address proof and voter ID cards of the guests before giving accommodation. He has been quoted as saying: “All voters must exercise their franchise to strengthen democracy.”

This IAS official should know that there is no law to force voters to exercise their franchise. Instead of coming out with such hare-brained ideas, Dayananda should take up voter awareness programme.

It is true that in view of the long week-end around the polling dates on April 18, residents of cities like Bengaluru are expected to flock to cooler getaways to escape the heat.

Viju Changappa, the president of Kodagu Homestays Association, has said: “Our members are aware of the election dates across the country, who will ask tourists about their participation in elections if they book on their respective voting days.”

One is not sure whether all the talk of denying accommodation to people who do not vote is all media hype. Ideally, hotel owners can offer discounts to guests who show proof of voting with ink on their finger.

 

 

By P.T. Bopanna

With some of the wards in Madikeri, the headquarters of Kodagu (Coorg) district in Karnataka, getting drinking water supply on alternate days even before the onset of summer, the homestay sector could be in serious trouble in the coming months.

Though Kodagu received unprecedented rains in the last monsoon triggering huge landslides, the water bodies in the district have already dried up, leading to concerns of severe drought.

Geologists have been quoted as saying that the imbalance in water table could continue for a few more years in areas affected by the landslides. All these years, the residents in the affected areas were dependent on natural springs which have dried up now.

Following the unprecedented rains last August, most of the water bodies supplying water to Madikeri, including Kootpole, Pampinakere, Kannada Bane and Roshanarakere, the water level had reached the brim. But there has been a sudden drop in the water levels in the reservoirs, causing concern of a serious scarcity in the summer months.

The Karnataka government should order a study to find out why despite the water bodies filling up in the monsoon, water has suddenly started drying up even before the onset of summer. Steps should be taken to improve the water table, especially in and around Madikeri, the hub of the homestay industry in Kodagu.

Due to the low water levels, water supply has already been restricted to alternate days in wards like Mahadevpet, Ganapathi Beedi and Ranipet in Madikeri.

The Madikeri City Municipal Council has cautioned residents of Madikeri to use water judiciously because of the scarcity conditions.

If the trend continues, the CMC and the district administration may have to order closure of the homestays in Kodagu to ensure water supplies to the permanent residents.  

But the CMC has to explain to the people why still there is no assured water supply to the residents of Madikeri. Faulty planning and corruption has ensured that the residents are starved of water in the summer months.

It is time the Kodagu district administration and Karnataka government stepped in to ensure adequate supply of drinking water in Madikeri, which has emerged as a hot tourist destination in South India.

 

 

 

 

By P.T. Bopanna

Though it was an open secret that rave parties were being held in some of the homestays in Coorg, perhaps for the first time the Kodagu police have succeeded in busting a well-organised racket.

A police team led by superintendent of police Suman D Pannekar (in picture) raided a homestay at Nelaji village near Napoklu on Saturday evening where a party was in progress with DJ music being played on loudspeakers and arrested five persons, including the owner of the homestay A-1 Glamping, Maleyanda A Appanna. 

Those arrested include Jude Pereira of Pune, Shankar Shanthanu of Mumbai, Sairam Ramesh of Cambridge layout in Bengaluru, and M V Ishwar of Mathikere in Bengaluru.

The Kodagu SP said: “They were probably part of an organised network, given the number of revellers at the party. It is a guarded area and permission was given only for an anniversary party.”

The owner had reportedly taken permission to host the party to celebrate the first anniversary of the homestay. Reports said there were over 70 revellers, high on party pills. Only those in possession of ganja were detained.

The police seized 29-gram charas, pipes, machines used for powdering ganja, musical instruments, generator, mini lorry and cigarette paper.

The Kodagu police should be complimented for unearthing the racket. The nefarious activities that go on in several illegal homestays should be dealt with an iron hand to ensure that the reputation of the homestay industry in Coorg is not damaged.

The Kodagu district administration should be blamed for not clamping down on the illegal homestays which outnumber registered homestays.   

 

By P.T. Bopanna

Tourism has bounced back in Kodagu (Coorg) thanks to the just concluded New Year celebrations which brought back hordes of tourists who had deserted the most popular hill station in South India following the killer landslides.

The government had banned tourism in Coorg from August 16 to September 9 following a spate of landslides which struck the hill station last August on account of unprecedented rains. Parts of the state highways had been washed away due to landslides.

Tourists had stopped visiting Coorg in the wake of the landslides and this had affected the business of homestays and hotels.

Though government and tourism agencies held publicity campaigns to assure the visitors that Coorg was safe, not many responded fearing landslides. The tourism sector suffered heavy losses in the last few months for lack of business.

All that changed overnight in the last week of 2018 as holiday-makers in large numbers headed for Coorg to celebrate the New Year. Most of the homestays and hotels reported full occupancy. This was helped by the fact that hotels and homestays had offered discounts on the tariff.

 The traffic jams were back in Madikeri, the district headquarters, leading to the woes of the local residents who had respite from the jams during the lean season.

There is no guarantee that the tourist flow will continue in 2019, considering the fact that the roads and highways have been badly damaged by the floods. Moreover, the roads affected by the landslides have not been rebuilt. Instead, sandbags have been stacked to temporarily allow the movement of vehicular traffic in places where the roads had caved in. A Madikeri resident remarked: “Placing sandbags to hold the roads which have caved in is like applying band-aid on a deep wound.”

Unless the roads are rebuilt, there is no guarantee that they will be motorable in the next monsoon.

It is a welcome move to hold a three-day Pravasi Utsav in Coorg from January 11 to 13.

This is the right time to weed out illegal homestays which have brought a bad name for Coorg. It is no secret that government officials and police are hand-in-glove with the owners of illegal homestays who indulge in nefarious activities.

 

By P.T. Bopanna 

The Union tourism ministry has issued fresh guidelines for homestays with a view to standardizing facilities across the country.  

According to reports, properties where their owners or promoters physically reside will be designated as homestay establishments, while those where only an agent or operator resides will be designated as bed & breakfast.

It is said most of the facilities which go by the nomenclature of homestays in Coorg are operated by agents who do not stay in the premises. 

The homestays run by agents in Coorg are invariably from outside the state. In most cases, they are fly-by-night operators who engage in running prostitution and gambling rackets.

The reports said these guidelines will constitute the Common National Standards. Each State and Union Territory will be free to build upon them to suit their requirements, while keeping the core tenets intact. The properties will be categorised as silver and gold on the basis of the facilities they offer.

A property would be classified in a two-stage procedure under which the presence of facilities and services would be evaluated against a checklist. “Due preference will be accorded to the homes, which are able to provide Indian experience by way of Indian decor, authentic and exotic Indian cuisine, etc.”

The ministry has also stated that homestays and bread and breakfast establishments too need to apply online for accreditation, approval and re-approval.

For the first time, the ministry has prepared a set of guidelines by which it will approve and classify online travel aggregators online travel (OTAs) ensuring reliability of their services.

The scheme for approval/re-approval of OTAs will be rolled out online by the end of this month and all applications and fee payment will have to be made on it. The scheme will set standards towards accreditation and add value to the dependability and reliability to the aggregators in the online space operating in the organised tourism sector.

An official said such a scheme for accreditation was necessary as letting the market operate unhindered could lead to unscrupulous players to vitiate it through unethical trade practices.

The new guidelines are welcome as far as Coorg is concerned because Coorg is considered as the homestay capital of India.

In the past, successive Kodagu (Coorg) district administrations have failed to tackle the menace of illegal homestays which have brought a bad name to genuine homestays who enable tourists to experience local culture and cuisine.

It is time the district administration cracked the whip and implemented the new guidelines to check the menace of illegal homestays.