With a Vibrant Package, Kerala to Catch Fancy of Travellers

Thiruvananthapuram: Kakkathuruthu, an islet in Kerala’s tangled backwaters, was among the 24 destinations featured in National Geographic’s ‘Around the World in 24 Hours’, a list of stunning destinations across the world that hold appeal to the adventurous traveller. Seventeen years ago, Kerala was chosen by Nat Geo Traveller as one of the 10 ‘paradises’ in the world and one of the 50 ‘must-see destinations of a lifetime.’

Yes, ‘Brand Kerala’ still holds prominence in the global travel trade arena. But, has the State succeeded in tapping the potential to the fullest? The truth will appear slightly disappointing once you go through Kerala Tourism’s official statistics, which shows a decelerating trend in the sector’s growth since 2012. Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTA), which has been growing at close to 20 per cent a year till 2010, has fallen below 10 per cent since 2012. For the first time in recent past, it has even fallen below the national average in 2014.

The deceleration has continued into 2015, which was mainly born out of certain non-committal approach as well as complacency. The leadership lacked focus and appeared looking for excuses. Global slowdown was cited as one reason but the decision-makers consciously chose to ignore the 20 per cent growth in FTAs recorded in Sri Lanka, the neighbouring destination which offers exactly the same products that Kerala does. Growth in domestic tourists visiting Kerala has always been considerably lower than the national average and that too has shown a mild decrease in recent years. Kerala Government’s strict liquor policy compounded the problems by ruining the MICE business in the State.

Five months ago, when the Pinarayi Vijayan-led LDF Government came to power, they decided to tackle the issue head-on. Under the leadership of A C Moideen, Minister for Tourism, the Government has been able to set itself on course to address the issues taking into consideration the fact that the sector contributes 10 per cent to the State’s GDP and remains one of the biggest employment providers.

While on the one side the Tourism Department has accepted the lapses in its role as a facilitator and committed itself to back the industry, Minister Moideen on the other side, setting aside political compulsions, dared to admit publicly that the liquor policy had affected the State’s tourism sector badly. The Department has brought Responsible Tourism (RT) back to the centre stage and decided to launch an RT Mission in the State as part of expanding the programme all over the State, including to the Muziris and Spice Route projects, and ensure its effective implementation.

As part of promoting new products, the Department has decided to launch special advertisement campaigns during Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016 to attract more holidayers to the State. “A total of Rs 7.5 crore has been earmarked for the third edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Considering its potential to woo holidayers, the government is planning to market the event as a tourism product,” Minister Moideen said. It is also increasingly into promoting new experiences in the form of ‘Heritage Trails’ such as Muziris and Spice Route initiatives as well as Village Life Experiences.

Kerala Tourism at WTM London

Besides continuing to seek ways to nurture the traditional strong market of UK, Kerala Tourism will explore opportunities in other lucrative outbound markets at WTM. “In addition to focusing on our core offerings of RT and wellness tourism, we will augment Kerala’s appeal by playing up the Muziris and Spice Route initiatives and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale as important attractions in the fast-growing cultural tourism segment. We will attract young travelers through a diverse array of soft and extreme adventure products in the State. Kerala will be projected as an ideal breakaway destination for weddings and honeymoons – both of which are priority segments for our tourism destinations,” said Dr. V Venu IAS, Principal Secretary, Kerala Tourism.

Nine sellers from Kerala will set up stalls at Kerala Tourism pavilion at WTM. Though buoyed by the success of the recently-concluded Kerala Travel Mart (KTM) in Kerala, the trade is uncertain about how WTM 2016 will pan out. “Being the first show after Brexit, there is uncertainty for sure. We are taking a wait-and-watch approach,” says Abraham George, CMD, Intersight Tours and Travels and President, KTM Society. Appreciating the efforts taken by the present Government, George said: “We can see an overall improvement in the approach of the Government. Now, we are waiting to see some action. Hopefully, we can see a change in the liquor policy at the earliest.”

As Kerala Tourism’s biggest foreign market, UK constituted 17 per cent of the State’s FTAs in 2015.

A Three-day Event

For the first time, WTM London 2016 will be a three day event, taking place from November 7 to 9, 2016 for which Incredible India is the official premier partner. World RT Day and the UNWTO & WTM Minister’s Summit will both celebrate their tenth editions this year. WTM will host a session, “Brexit – How Will It Change UK Travel – Inbound and Outbound?” to discuss the implications of Brexit on the UK inbound and outbound travel industry at this year’s event. WTM London, Senior Director, Simon Press said: “No one really knows what the long-term impact of Brexit on the UK travel industry will be. We have assembled a panel which knows the UK travel industry inside out. Their insights will help attendees decide where the dangers and opportunities lie over the short, medium and long term.”

Sellers at Kerala Tourism pavilion

Intersight Tours and Travels, Jayasree Travels, Kumarakom Lake Resort, Pioneer Tours and Travels, Punnamada Backwater Resort, Spiceland Holidays, Udaya Samudra Leisure Beach Hotel and Spa, Xandari Resort and Spa and Punarnava Ayurveda