A ‘REALLY SPECIAL’ KTM HELPS LIFT SPIRIT OF KERALA TOURISM

Kochi: A spirited Kerala Travel Mart (KTM), a major travel event of the country which was held in Kochi recently, has once again displayed the State’s resolve to take important steps to provide the much-needed fillip to its tourism sector, one of the major pillars supporting the economy, which has been hit hard by the unprecedented floods. Inaugurating the tenth edition of KTM, Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala, emphasised the importance of safeguarding the ecology of prime destinations and promoting Responsible Tourism. “We are duty-bound to preserve and protect nature. A place develops itself into a Responsible Tourism centre when stakeholders and the local community join hands,” he added.

Plans to reinvent the State’s decade-old Responsible Tourism, update customised packages, strengthen tools of publicity, broaden the tourism map and deck up heritage spots to woo more travelers to God’s Own Country were unveiled at the four-day event.

Chief Guest K J Alphons, Union Minister of State for Tourism (I/C), said the post-flood ‘resurrection’ of Kerala has had no parallels anywhere in the world. “Kerala is again ready to receive tourists. The State should concentrate on the Chinese market as we are getting far less number of tourists from that country.”

Kadakampally Surendran, Minister of Tourism, Kerala who presided over the ceremony, said KTM symbolises Kerala’s resilience and the spirit of harmony and togetherness of the State’s people. “I thank the tourism trade across the world for standing with us and being a beacon of hope in our darkest hour,” he noted.

The inaugural ceremony saw the presence of an array of administrators and bureaucrats besides entrepreneurs and top functionaries from the field of travel and tourism. The event which began with cultural programmes featured multi-ethnic art forms, predominantly from Malabar in north Kerala.

KTM organisers said that KTM-2018 has earned a special place in the State’s tourism sector. “It is historic, coming as it is a month after the worst natural calamity our people faced,” said Rani George IAS, Secretary, Kerala Tourism, about the September 27-30 event that hosted 35,000 business meets involving 1,635 buyers (545 of them from 66 foreign countries). “I even wonder how our tourism would have got back on track but for this KTM edition coming at the right time,” she added.
KTM-2018, which brought together an array of entrepreneurs from across India and abroad, had 325 sellers in 400-odd stalls. Baby Mathew, President, KTM-2018 noted that the event had 1090 domestic buyers shortlisted from 5000 applicants besides 545 foreign buyers short listed from 2000 applicants. “That shows the trust the world has in Kerala’s tourism,” he added.

P Bala Kiran IAS, Director, Kerala Tourism said that KTM-2018 has helped put a smile of hope on the faces of the tourism industry honchos in contrast to a general gloom that prevailed among its captains till a week ago. “This edition has proved that KTM is not a celebratory event, but a business meet,” he added. Enthused by the encouraging response it received, the KTM Society is considering a change of venue for its 2020 edition to a permanent location that will be spacious as well as plastic-free.

MIDDLE EAST KEEN ON AUTHENTIC AYURVEDA

After making inroads in the wellness markets of Germany and Russia, Kerala’s famed Ayurveda is now making its presence felt in the Middle East, wooing travellers from countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE in large numbers with a promise to offer the traditional holistic system of healing in a most authentic manner.

The sellers representing Ayurvedic hospitals and resorts at KTM-2018 said they have been witnessing a considerable rise in the number of tourists from the Middle East during the last five years. Baby Mathew, Chairman, Somatheeram Ayurveda Group and KTM President, said that in the last five years there has been a 30 per cent increase in the arrival of tourists from the Middle East. “It happened after we carried out campaigns there. It had not been done before.”

“We organized wellness exhibitions at Arabian Travel Market (ATM) Dubai five years ago. Since then, there has been encouraging results,” he said adding that guests from Arabian countries are now coming to Kerala for long-term treatments. Dr. Kiran B Nair, MD, Vaidya Healthcare, Perumbavoor said, “It shows that things are on the brighter side. Most of them approach Ayurvedic physicians as their family doctors.”

KERALA’S AGRARIAN SPIRIT LIVES ON

Responsible Tourism (RT), an innovative endeavour the State launched a decade ago, brought recognition for Kerala as the State tourism department bagged awards for the third consecutive time at the National Tourism Awards presented in New Delhi on World Tourism Day.

Top functionaries noted that sight-seeing alone cannot help tourism in Kerala thrive in the long run. “We need to show visitors the actual ethnic activities of our people,” says Rupesh Kumar K, Co-ordinator of State RT Mission.

Among farmers at the exhibition is Elias K P from Chottanikkara in Ernakulam district. “I used to climb coconut trees while also being a mimicry artiste,” he reveals, wearing a lungi and white vest. “Of late, agriculture too, is slowly becoming a profitable venture.” Sitting on the veranda of a thatched hut, Sathi Murali braids a coconut frond with practised ease.
“Over the past decade, RT has been bringing tourists to my house. They are eager to know how we lock the palm-leaves. It’s fun and earns me money too.” Sathi says. “We charge Rs. 10 a piece.” Just outside the mud-raised hut that sports a hurricane lamp are rolled grass mats and palm-leaf fans besides a rounded measure holding fresh paddy.
Up north from Malabar, the thrust region of KTM-2018, has its Wayanad tribals. Among them is Kochangode Govindan, holding a traditional bow and arrow, much to the fascination of the visitors at the exhibition. “We never use this weapon to kill people. It’s solely for hunting,” he says.

Just as Govindan explains the ancient attachment his family has with bows and arrows, a Hindi-speaking visitor at KTM-2018 asks him if she could try a bit of archery. The old man, with a beard and knotted hair, obliges happily.

TECH UPDATE, NICHE PACKAGES, NIGHT LIFE TO ENLIVEN TOURISM

Digital media and artificial intelligence (AI) are proving to be key requirements for tourism promotion to get new visitors from across the globe and Kerala cannot be an exception, experts observed during ‘Changing Trends in Travel and Tourism’ a seminar organised at KTM.

Suman Billa IAS, Joint Secretary, Union Ministry of Tourism, highlighted ‘productisation’ as an urgent requirement of tourism in Kerala. “Select a niche area and curate it well. Be prompt with your service; speed matters.” Other speakers at the session were Cherian Philip, who heads the Nava Kerala Mission and P Bala Kiran IAS, Director, Kerala Tourism besides travel entrepreneurs P K Anish Kumar, Sejoe Jose and Baby Mathew, KTM President. Hotelier Riaz Ahmed, former KTM president, was the moderator.

The speakers opined that “over-tourism” should not disturb the normal routine of hosts even as Kerala explores the scope of non-conventional hospitality such as homestays and bread-and-breakfast options.

EMPOWERMENT FOR FLOOD-AFFECTED IN TOURISM SECTOR

KTM was proof that the flood-affected people of the State remained top priority for the tourism industry as Kadakampally Surendran, Minister of Tourism announced a plan that would help them get back on their feet. “A survey would be conducted to assess the possibility of offering job opportunities through tourism for people in the State’s flood-hit areas as the calamity has not damaged the infrastructure facilities in the sector,” the minister said at the tenth edition of KTM at Wellington Island.

“Students of Kerala Institute of Tourism and Travel Studies (KITTS) will conduct the survey. It will help bring more people to the tourism sector,” he added. “The government conducted a ‘Readiness Survey’ from September 1 to know if we are ready to receive tourists. The study’s report published on September 15 revealed that 80 per cent of the centres were back on track.”

Connectivity in all areas, including Pathanamthitta and the hill station of Gavi, have been restored on a war-footing. The minister said that a Rs. 300 crore river cruise project in upstate Malabar has received Central assistance of Rs. 98 crore. “The state government has earmarked Rs. 65 crore to this project,” he said.