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    Kochi homestays: Home, bitter home

    KOCHI: The streets flickering to life with music, laughter and chatter floating in the air, ebullient tourists browsing through the antique shops and checking out local delis. You’re at ground zero of the tourist season this year and this is the picture you get from Fort Kochi at first glance.As yet another season sets in, everything may look hunky-dory from outside, but the city’s most prominent holiday destination has another ugly face. According to the locals, there is a nexus involving unauthorised tour operators, homestays, shop owners and auto drivers who openly exploit the tourists. Fort Kochi alone has nearly 100 homestays functioning without any approval from the authorities concerned.“Auto drivers are offered commission to lure away tourists to some homestays. Only a negligible per cent is involved in this racket while the majority of the drivers are offering their services properly,” says K P Simpson, Fort Kochi Tourist Owners Association president. The tourists will be dumped at filthy places far from the heritage zone rented for the purpose. Disturbing stories of drug abuse and sexual exploitation arise from such places and most of the tourists cut short their trip and leave the place in a day or two.The concept of homstays is essentially based on the idea of giving foreigners a slice of local life, especially Kerala culture, lifestyle and cuisine. According to the guidelines issued by District Tourism Promotion Council, the owner of the homestay, along with his family, should be physically present at the place.Moreover there are instructions on the quality of service, the right size of rooms and other facilities. But many of the homestays in Fort Kochi are in rented buildings. They also operate as tourist homes or hotels minus any commercial licence. “The condition of some of the homestays is really pathetic. The rent will be minimal, but they will charge exorbitant amounts for food and drinks. There are places which charge Rs 200 for a bottle of bear and alcohol is served in most of the homestays which is against the law,” says Derson Antony, a homestay owner.In Fort Kochi there are homestays available for hourly rent that starts from `50 open to both domestic and foreign tourists. According to police officials they cannot directly intervene in the problem as the corporation is the monitoring authority. “There is nothing unlawful about taking in guests. Since there is no legal restriction, we cannot step in unless there is a complaint,” says a police official.According to the Tourism Department, the district has only 118 licensed homestays which are classified into diamond, gold and silver categories. “We have no control or authority over unlicensed homestays as of now. Authorised homestays have the facility to file their C-Form online while others are required to go to the nearest police station for that. So it is easy to identify them. I think a piece of legislation should be passed making licence mandatory for homestays. This will be the only way to curb the menace,” says DTPC Secretary, T N Jayashankar.