Kerala and alcohol

Given the clear attraction of the state to tourists, with its gorgeous scenery and endless activities define a place people wish to visit. But the alcohol policy is an issue, albeit one now being addressed as far as holidaymakers are concerned. The problem was the exceptionally high alcohol abuse rate in the state, leading to a 2014 state government decision to close bars and refuse licence renewals. It affected hotels too, with only 5* properties able to retain the right to sell drinks, and with restrictions there as well. 

The effect was to make the destination less attractive in a number of markets and cause serious issues for the mid range hotels who found clients either upgrading to the highest grade properties or going elsewhere. In attempting to address a domestic problem, undoubtedly serious, the knock on effect was to give pause to those wishing to come and see the destination. 

That’s not to say that visitors were all desperate to drink the bars dry, but the ability to have a glass of wine with a meal on holiday is not to be dismissed, nor can it be ignored that other, even more restrictive societies have found a way to act domestically, without risking the visitor market. 

Things have relaxed somewhat, the change in government allowed a partial softening of the regulations, with licences now being renewed and most recently an extension of the hours to 11pm. However, the national Supreme Court stated in a judgement that any bar should be 500m from a main highway, leading some to adopt creative mazes to ensure the walk is sufficiently long to pass muster. Some hotels have even changed their reception areas to the other side of the property to ensure compliance. 

As things stand, it merely requires a little thought and planning to ensure a bar is present at the booked hotel, if that matters to the visitor (and it certainly doesn’t to all). Equally, the first of every month is a dry day, so some planning may be needed the day before to ensure any requirements are met. Yet with the rules in place as they are, huge queues are present at the existing liquor stores. It’s worth seeing those just for the experience, they take on some aspects of a Speakeasy, the vaguely illicit act of buying alcohol becomes remarkable in itself for someone from a society partly built around the pub. 

It shouldn’t prevent anyone except perhaps the truly desperate from coming, but it does highlight the expectations of many tourists and the global nature of competition for their business. Addressing the very real domestic issues without damaging a valuable source of foreign currency is the challenge. Places such as Dubai have managed that quite effectively, Kerala appears to be moving in a similar direction. 

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