‘Consensus Needed on New Liquor Policy’

Thiruvananthapuram: Stating that the Government is fully aware of the adverse impact of the liquor policy, adopted by the previous UDF dispensation, on Kerala’s tourism industry, Kadakampally Surendran, Tourism Minister, has said more discussions are needed to bring about changes in the existing policy.

In an exclusive interview with Destination Kerala, Minister Surendran said: “As a Tourism Minister, I wish the Kerala Government would come up with an excise policy which is tourism-friendly. It is a fact that the present liquor policy has badly affected the tourism industry. A study conducted by the Department of Tourism also found that the policy literally wiped out MICE business from the State. All of us are completely aware of these consequences. However, more discussions are required so that we can reach a consensus on amending the policy.”

Minister Surendran assumed charge as Tourism Minister post demonetisation. However, under his leadership Kerala has managed to tide over the difficult phase to a large extent through innovative marketing strategies and by promoting unique tourism products. “The continuous efforts of the government and private tourism partners have helped Kerala Tourism withstand demonetisation crisis. A setback to the tourism sector will have a significant impact on the economy,” he said.

According to him, Kerala would have witnessed a substantial increase in tourist arrivals had it not been for demonetisation. The State saw a 5.71 per cent increase in tourist arrivals in 2016, welcoming 14.2 million visitors, despite the challenges faced due to demonetisation. According to provisional figures from the Tourism Department, 1,42,10,954 tourists came to Kerala in 2016, out of which 1,31,72,535 were domestic arrivals and 10,38,419 foreign visitors – an increase of  5.67 per cent and 6.23 per cent respectively compared to 2015. The Department was expecting an overall increase of 7 per cent in foreign tourist arrivals and 6.5 per cent in domestic tourist arrivals for 2016 before the demonetisation shocker derailed all plans.

“The month of November, a peak tourist season for Kerala, saw a significant half-percentage drop in domestic tourist arrivals following the Centre’s announcement banning high-value currency notes. Given the fact that we expected an 8 per cent increase in arrivals in November, the decline effectively resulted in an overall decrease of 8.5 per cent from the estimates. Although the visitor numbers did increase in December, the previous month’s fall affected the overall figures for the year.

The note ban, however, did not have a profound impact on foreign tourist arrivals. While the months of October and December saw an increase of 8.45 per cent and 8.01 per cent respectively compared to 2015, November saw a smaller increase of 6.98 per cent. “The overall scenario was better compared to domestic arrivals since foreign visitors tend to book their holidays in advance,” he said.

Minister Surendran informed that the Government is giving shape to a new tourism policy which will have Responsible Tourism (RT) as its underpinning. “Presently, the State’s tourism industry is going through a challenging phase. Despite becoming a global brand, the rate of increase in tourist arrivals is declining year after year. The primary goal of the Government is to deal with issues which are hampering the growth and provide a new vigour to brand Kerala Tourism. The new policy will have a clear vision in terms of improving the infrastructure at tourism destinations, launching new destinations and products, and evolving new marketing strategies for effectively exploiting the potential of digital technology and social media. It will also lay stress on safety and security of tourists, cleanliness of the destinations and skilling of human resources,” he said.

The Tourism Minister also admitted that the State is facing tough competition from neighbouring States as well as countries. “They are offering products which had been the highlight of Kerala Tourism till recently, at more attractive rates. I am sure the industry can overcome this crisis by ensuring quality and adopting effective ways of marketing,” he added.

Europe, especially Germany, is a significant market for Kerala Tourism. “By attending ITB Berlin 2017, we want to further popularise among the global audience the culture and festivals of our tourist-friendly State along with our award-winning RT initiatives and best selling tourism products,” he said.