Kerala, hit hard by a viral fever caused by mosquito bites, is apprehensive that the tourist season starting mid-October might not take off.
For a state whose economy relies heavily on its flourishing tourism industry, 60 reported chikungunya deaths, as the viral fever is known here, could not have come at a worse time than this.
The maximum chikungunya deaths so far have occurred in Alappuzha district, a favourite tourist destination in the state with its popular houseboats. The other tourist destinations affected by the disease are the districts of Kottayam, Ernakulam, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram.
Former Congress minister for tourism K.C. Venugopal, who represents the Alappuzha assembly constituency, said despite chikungunya being first reported in the district on July 27, the government was very slow to react.
"Reports indicate there are close to 100,000 people in the state who have been affected by the disease and Alappuzha is the worst hit. We fear that direct loser on account of this would be the tourism industry. The government appears to be groping in the dark to contain this," Venugopal told IANS.
However, Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan disagreed with former minister. He said the government was taking every measure to contain the spread of the disease.
Said a houseboat owner from Alappuzha: "We were a bit worried because the government took time to act on the outbreak of this killer disease.
"The state government erred by failing to identify that it was chikungunya. It was only when the number of deaths increased that the government could identify it. We expect that at least now the spread could be contained and the new season would not be affected."
Public health expert C.R. Soman said the tourism industry also should join the health department to fight this menace.
"It was through a gallant attempt in the late 70s that Kerala could eradicate malaria. But chikungunya and dengue fever can be contained only through constant awareness campaigns and if we start with earnestness now, it could be eradicated in two years' time," said Soman.
The affected districts are in a disadvantageous position because of the thick density of population as well. While the density of population in the state is around 840 people per sq km, it is around 2,400 in the affected districts.
However, Kerala Tourism is no stranger to tough situations.
The first serious toll of the tourism industry took place after the 9/11 attacks in the US and the December 2004 tidal waves did the second damage.
As of now, the tourism industry here is keeping its fingers crossed because competitor states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka might play spoilsport by highlighting about the outbreak of chikungunya and dengue in Kerala.