Houseboat: From goods transporting vessel to conference venue

June 2010 News

From the old Valavara Kettuvallam (houseboat) transporting goods through the lakes and rivers to various destinations of Kerala in the olden days to the present luxury recreation vessel equipped with all modern facilities jostling in the vast and deep backwaters, houseboat has undergone radical transformation shedding its old concept and witnessed a total shift from the sector it had been serving.

The Valavara Kettuvallams gained prominence in the post medieval period as the only means of transporting goods through inland waters till the advent of motor vehicles and development of road network across Kerala. Dropping its old attire as a goods transporting vessel, an essential part of yesteryear Kerala's economy and public life, it was not long ago the houseboat hit the Kerala backwaters in the new avatar of recreation craft promoting tourism. What more, soon the corporate world also found the houseboats, which are made using locally available boat building materials and environment-friendly, are more innovative and attractive than the conference halls of luxury hotels for holding business meetings.

Isolated houseboats that dotted the Kerala backwaters till a few years back were gradually joined by hundreds of luxury ones. Now, various individuals and houseboat companies in Kerala are operating about 800 houseboats in the backwaters right from Kollam to Ernakulam and northern districts.

The concept of luxury houseboat to woo tourists to this sector was not encouraging initially, say experts in the industry. But the tourists realised that the houseboat cruise through the deep and calm lakes and lazy canals was more entertaining and there was a sudden surge in the number of tourists prefering houseboat cruise. According to G C Damodaran, president, Kumarakom Grama Panchayat, which won Government of India's award for the best 'Responsible Tourism Project', there were as many as 536 houseboats that were conducting operations in Kerala's backwaters in 1998. Now the number has gone up to about 800, he says.

Houseboats soon attracted the corporate world's attention as ideal venues to conduct business conferences. Soon, hosueboats became the favourite choice for conducting meetings on a cruise. Now there are houseboats with conference facilities having a seating capacity of about 60 to 70 persons.

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