India, Kerala Get Celebrity Endorsement at WTM 2016

London: ‘‘India really is a wonderful country. Not only is it wonderful for its beauty, variety and richness of culture but because of the people who are warm, funny, joyous and welcoming, as well. Sell it hard and strong as a fantastic place with wonderful people and utterly delicious food.” This was Harry Potter actress Miriam Margolyes singing praises for ‘Incredible India’ at the recently-concluded WTM London 2016.

Kerala also received a surprise boost from the British actress, the star of ‘The Real Marigold Hotel’ TV series, filmed in India, who declared her desire to see Kerala on what would be her fourth visit to the subcontinent.

She was accompanied by Dr. Mahesh Sharma, Union Minister of State for Tourism, at Incredible India’s press conference in which the country’s sheer variety of experiences, including UNESCO sites, luxury travel, ecotourism, medical tourism, religious travel, wildlife and undiscovered regions such as north-east India were highlighted.

With India being the official Premier Partner of WTM 2016, Minister Sharma inaugurated the event along with Simon Press, Executive Director, WTM London.

He also visited the Kerala Tourism pavilion which hosted nine sellers. India participated in full strength with 42 co-exhibitors in the Incredible India pavilion themed ‘India – The Land of Eternal Heritage’.

“In the past 18 months, Government of India has invested more than $400 million for developing tourism infrastructure around the country. We are expanding the e-Visa scheme to make it easier for overseas visitors to travel to India, and are tackling issues of safety and cleanliness. We have also identified cruise tourism and MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and events) travel as growth sectors. A new free 24/7 helpline has been established to assist visitors and themed tourism circuits are being developed,” said Sharma who also launched a website for the Incredible India Global Tourism Mart to be held in New Delhi in February 2017.

Vinod Zutshi IAS, Secretary, India Tourism, said: “The government is prioritising tourism by investing in public infrastructure in order to facilitate specific tourism investments from the private sector. Luxury tourism ventures are also being marketed along with undertapped destinations like the north-eastern part of the country.”

India expects foreign tourist arrivals to rise 10 per cent year-on-year in 2016, taking visitor numbers to a projected nine million. There were 8,70,000 UK visitors to India last year. New flight routes from Manchester and increased airlift from Birmingham will enable more UK travelers to head to India in 2017.

Recognition for Kerala Tourism Pavilion

Kerala Tourism pavilion, which sported images of fabled snake boat races of the State, received the ‘Best Stand Feature’ award at WTM London 2016. With three vibrant and visually appealing replicas of the spectacular snake boats along with images and a video of ‘vallam kali’, the 120-square metre pavilion wooed visitors at the world’s leading travel and tourism show. In awarding Kerala Tourism, the judges noted that the snake boats made them “want to go to Kerala just to see that in action.’’ The pavilion was conceptualised and designed by Stark Communications, Kerala Tourism’s creative and brand management agency. Dr. Venu V IAS, Principal Secretary, Kerala Tourism received the award in the presence of Abraham George, CMD, Intersight Tours and Travels and President, KTM Society. Flanders (Belgium) and Egypt were the other winners in the Best Stand award category.

Kerala Shares its RT Experiences

Giving a major boost to Kerala Tourism’s global marketing drive, State’s strides in Responsible Tourism initiative received a thumping applause at WTM London 2016.

Dr. Venu V IAS, Principal Secretary, Kerala Tourism was among the six participants who attended the flagship Roundtable Interview as part of the 10th anniversary observance of the RT programme.

“Today, if there is a destination in India which talks RT and has produced measurable results through the initiative, it is Kerala. With the increasing number of middle class families in the country, the size of domestic tourism market has increased so dramatically that domestic tourists contribute 90 to 92 per cent of total tourist arrivals in Kerala. This means, the State has to change the kind of holidays it offers. But I am not so sure whether the message of RT has sunk in the domestic market within India. RT is not at the centre of their thoughts. Hence, the challenge for Kerala will be to get them on board the State’s RT mission,” said Venu, in the session moderated by BBC News Anchor Aaron Heslehurst.

Other participants included Justin Francis, CEO, and Founder, World RT Awards; Adama Bah, Director, Institute of Travel and Tourism of Gambia; Auliana Poon, MD, Tourism Intelligence International; Jane Ashton, Director of Sustainable Development, TUI Group and Harold Goodwin, WTM RT Tourism Advisor. Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General, UNWTO and Simon Press, Senior Director, WTM London was also present.

This year’s RT programme at WTM opened with a public ‘conversation’ on ‘How to Enhance the Guest Experience in India.’ Speaking on the occasion, Rupesh Kumar, State Responsible Tourism Field Coordinator, said villages looking to develop community-based tourism, and the companies that work with them, should be focussing on showcasing activities that form the core part of the villagers’ livelihood – such as farming – rather than “adding on dedicated and additional tourism experiences such as tiger tours and elephant tourism.”

Earlier, Vinod Zutshi IAS, Secretary, India Tourism, said RT is being embedded in India’s official tourism policies. “We have to study the carrying capacity of destinations and ensure that there is not too much tourism for a destination to bear,” he said.