WTM London: the Media and Tourism Industry, Made for Each Other

Lastword

November 1997. Destination Kerala, still an infant just six months old, resolves to attend the World Travel Market (WTM) in London, due to open at the famed Earl’s Court Exhibition Center on the 17th of that month and conclude on the 20th. It was to be this journal’s first foray on to the global scene, and the stakes were high.

Accordingly, our 7th issue was planned as a WTM Special, the first-of-its-kind from Kerala ever to reach the event in the Queen’s capital.

Sponsors came forward in good numbers and we were able to produce a 48-page bumper issue, leading with the ‘Interview of the Month’ starring Umesh Kumar Singh Chauhan IAS, then Director, Tourism, Kerala, and, in all respects, our Chief Mentor during those teething trouble days.

A couple of days prior to our departure for London, Chauhanji called me to his office and said: you and me are the only ones, other than private operators, to represent Kerala at WTM ’97. We will play this game differently. In the past, our officials used to keep everything under wraps, volunteering no information on Kerala’s participation at such events to the media. We are using public funds and so ought to be transparent. I want you to issue a press release today, announcing our mission to London, and once there, we will feed the major dailies back home with news on an everyday basis via fax. I have already made arrangements with the editors. You will act as my ‘press officer’ in London, creating Malayalam news bulletins, and I shall get them faxed.

Being an officer ahead of his times, UKS had thought it up well. He was media savvy, himself a poet and writer in Hindi, and as District Collector, Kozhikode till April 1997, had cultivated the newspaper community with frequent background briefings, and occasionally, some meaty leaks! And the press, in turn, was happy to report on his maverick acts like climbing a coconut tree and such in vivid detail. Malayalam dailies on that November 16th displayed prominently our trip to London, as if we were the first-ever group of Malayalis to head for the seat of the Empire! In London, soon after the inauguration of WTM ’97 with the Mayor of London as chief guest, we rushed to Chauhanji’s room at St. James Court, the Taj Group hotel in the city centre, to compare notes and create the release. Over a few drinks of a tasty brand of single malt, we laboured for over an hour to produce what could be termed a well-edited journalistic piece on Kerala’s magic impact on global tourism through WTM ’97, and Chauhanji got it faxed at once, to beat the deadlines back home and the time zone difference that makes it near-midnight in India.

Next morning, at Earl’s Court, Chauhanji was grinning from ear to ear, telling everyone who cared to listen, of the wide news coverage in Malayalam dailies, of which he was informed by his team in Thiruvananthapuram over phone.

It marked the beginning of a new era in synergistic collaboration between the tourism industry and the media in Kerala, to ensure that positive information on the happenings involving public funds is dished out in a transparent style, particularly in relation to events in faraway lands where facts on the State as an excellent destination for tourism and investment had to be established and nurtured in a responsible manner.

We of Destination Kerala are still at it as we head for another edition of WTM, even as we gratefully remember the generosity with which UKS Chauhan afforded us an opening to be a player in Kerala’s growth story over the past two eventful decades.