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Kerala’s Ayurvedic retreats innovate to stay open

Luxury resorts offer discounted packages for locals and treatments specifically designed for COVID-rehab and work-from-home fatigue

After two lockdowns, tourism in Kerala is cautiously opening with Karkkadakam (July-August), the last month of the Malayalam calendar. Considered to be an ideal time of the year for Ayurveda treatments, the State is usually bustling with wellness tourism at this time, as domestic and international travellers arrive in droves, staying for a month or more.

But COVID-19 has changed everything. For the second consecutive year, the Ayurveda centres need to find creative ways to stay afloat.

Accent on ‘monsoon treatment’

This year, instead of Karkkadakam packages, the accent is on ‘monsoon treatment’. Hefty discounts are being offered for a treatment regime comprising sukha chikitsa (preventive therapy), rejuvenation sessions with panchakarma treatment and medicated diets. Some centres began offering packages from June onwards, the beginning of the South-West monsoon in the State. Somatheeram, an award winning property in Kovalam, for instance now offers a 30% discount on all monsoon packages. The current rate for a 14-day package per head is ₹8,400 per day, inclusive of accommodation, treatment, Ayurveda diet, yoga and meditation and transport.

In an attempt to cater to a quickly-changing world, post-COVID rehab is being promoted at many places along with monsoon packages. “We have been giving online consultation from last year. Now we have patients coming in seeking relief from post-COVID symptoms,” says Dr. Ani Sambath, medical superintendent and senior physician, AyurVAID, Kochi, which has multiple monsoon packages of three, five, seven, 14 and 21 days, with 15% discount.

Read More | Domestic travellers are embracing wellness holidays

Some centres are offering workations as well. “We have youngsters coming in from metros,” says Sajeev Kurup V, president of Ayurveda Promotion Society and general secretary, Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry. “They don’t have any ailments but go for rejuvenating sessions to take a break from their sedentary lifestyle.”

Kerala Tourism’s records state that there are more than 90 accredited Ayurveda centres in the State. This is in addition to 20-odd venues, including medical colleges and institutions such as Kottakkal and Vaidyaratnam that have been giving treatment for years. “Tourism and Ayurveda go hand in hand. Ayurveda contributes nearly 70% to Kerala Tourism’s total foreign exchange,” says Sanjeev, adding, “These guests stay for two weeks or a month and spend at least $100 per day on the treatment, which can be wellness or ailment oriented. Some centres that used to charge $200 or 300 per day have reduced the rates now.”

Foreign guests arriving on medical visas

As lockdowns ease, foreign guests are arriving on medical visas from countries which have air bubble pacts with India. In March, over 60 visited. However, travel bans and restrictions to and from India, especially after the second wave of the pandemic, reduced tourist arrivals.

“There is just 10% of business happening now. In the last few months we had patients from Russia, United States, Germany, Ukraine, France and Italy who came on medical visas, but in small numbers. Earlier, 99% of our clientele comprised foreign guests,” says Baby Mathew, president, Kerala Travel Mart (KTM) Society and managing director of Somatheeram Group of Companies. KTM, which holds India’s largest B2B meet in the tourism sector, held a virtual summit in March this year.

While CGH Earth’s Kalari Kovilakom in Palakkad district has near-full occupancy now (it has 18 rooms), with patients from across India, Kalari Rasayana, the group’s Ayurveda centre at Kollam, is closed temporarily. “Before the second wave of the pandemic, we had patients from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine at Kalari Rasayana,” says Shilendran M, vice-president (sales), CGH Earth. He adds, “Our target was international tourists because we weren’t sure whether Indians would be willing to spend so much time and money for the treatment. But the situation has changed in the last three-four months.”

Some centres have cut staff, while a few properties have been put up for sale. “Certain medicines that we use have shelf life and when the first lockdown was announced even low-end centres had stocks worth ₹5 lakh. Those medicines had to be discarded. Also, a small property needs at least ₹2 lakh per month for maintenance. Owners who are unable to meet that expense are now planning to sell off their property,” says Sajeev. He adds that his resort, Perumbayil Ayurvedamana in Guruvayoor, has just 30% occupancy at present.

Multiple COVID tests

People are apprehensive even though treatments are given following COVID-19 protocol, which includes multiple COVID tests for the patients and staff, staying in a bio-bubble. “Those who need time-bound treatment or annual care are getting admitted on a priority basis. At present, there is 60% occupancy at AyurVAID. Only a few are enthused about the special packages,” says Dr Ani.

Gurukripa Heritage and Ayurvedic Treatment in Palakkad, which boasts actor Mohanlal as its biggest cheerleader, has 70% occupancy now, says M. Krishnadasan, managing director of the centre. “Among them are those who go for Ayurveda treatment every year without fail and those with ailments that need immediate attention,” he adds. Ultimately, even for luxury resorts popularised by tourists, right now it is the local regulars who are keeping most clinics up and running.

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