'Tourism supported everyone in my village, from farmers to schoolchildren – now it's all gone'

Chris Moss
·3-min read
Kerala - Getty
Kerala - Getty
LOGO: Unlock Long Haul
LOGO: Unlock Long Haul

The Telegraph’s Unlock Long Haul campaign is calling for the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to open up travel to more of the world after lockdown. Here, Sajna Chakkalakkal Narayanan, 37, from Kerala, India, talks to Chris Moss about the impact of travel restrictions. 

I studied birds and butterflies in general, and specifically the ones we find locally. Also I was trained in different languages for tourism purposes.

I have worked as a guide for eight years, doing village walks for Village Ways in Mothakkara, in Wayanad, Kerala. I also guide through the tree plantations in the city nearby called Mananthavady.

Tourism has provided a financial support to a few people in our village and hence it supported the families in a larger picture. Community tourism reached out to almost all sectors in our village through different ways. For example, drivers who facilitated transport for the tourist, farmers from whom the tourists bought products, pot makers, blacksmiths, guides, cooks: everyone benefited in some way or other. 

We have a committee that takes care of tourism activities here. Through that committee, a share of revenue from each guest was channelled into the village development activities such as financing the school in our village. 

Personally, I was able to learn so much about different cultures and it made me bold to manage finance and my family on my own. I became capable of helping my children in education both academic and cultural.

My income before Covid-19 was not great, to be frank, but it was manageable. We depended on other income sources too. This year there was no revenue from tourism. I’ve lost 90% of my income. Work stopped in February during the tourist season, when lockdown was declared.

Sajna Chakkalakkal Narayanan
Sajna Chakkalakkal Narayanan

There was no financial aid from the Indian government. State government provided some aid on health and food supply. But it seems like the government is struggling to manage the Covid-related issues.

The lockdown was a shock in many ways, especially financially. Tourism used to reach every nook and corner of our village and it stopped. We all missed tourists and were not happy. I was indoors most of the time. We were shaken financially. All arenas of life here are affected by the lockdown. When people do not step out of their houses, there is no need for an infrastructure that supports society. 

We depend on agriculture-related works now. Or we take up similar small labours. It is not enough. We are not happy about it. However, we are trying to accept and adjust with it. There is no other way.

My husband is a driver and farmer. With the lockdown, he is completely out of business too. Currently, I am working in an agricultural nursery and he’s taking care of farming at home. The situation is not great when there is no reliable source of income.  

We practised community tourism. Unlike private sector tourism, this is about the entire village benefitting. So the impact is holistic. It looks like drivers are the most affected by lockdown because people are not travelling around. They are not even able to pay their taxes and other expenses of their vehicles.

We met a lot of UK citizens and they were all very kind to us. We loved having them here and would love to host them soon. 

One way you could help us is by supporting the community tourism and opening the borders. We hope our kids can study and experience your culture when they are grown up and ready for it. 

The Kerala state government has implemented all safety measures to stop community spread of Covid-19, and our villagers seem to have adapted excellently with the new ways of living. Everyone here practices social distancing, sanitises properly and our health centres are equipped to provide all medical requirements. So, you should visit us now! It's a beautiful season here. We guarantee you’ll have a good time.