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Kerala beckons tourists: We're open!

Last updated on: October 04, 2018 19:17 IST

Kerala Tourism has drawn up God’s Own Country 2.0 and the department is going all out to repair the state’s image and infrastructure.

Apart from being a damage control exercise, it is also an opportunity to reimagine the state as a tourism brand.

After a 15 day hiatus, Kochi Airport is all set to welcome the world to Kerala. Photograph: Courtesy @KeralaToruism/Twitter.

After a 15 day hiatus, Kochi Airport, with this invitation, was all set to welcome the world to Kerala in August. Photograph: Courtesy @KeralaTourism/Twitter.

Still reeling from the worst ever floods in over a century, Kerala Tourism is looking to get the state back on its feet before the winter holiday season kicks in.

Simultaneously the tourism department will address the fears that have led global and domestic travellers to drop the state from their travel itineraries.

An aerial view shows partially submerged road at a flooded area in Kerala on August 19. Photograph: Sivaram V/Reuters.

An aerial view shows partially submerged road at a flooded area in Kerala on August 19. Photograph: Sivaram V/Reuters.
 

The state estimates that it could lose around Rs 15 billion from tourism revenues this year, with nearly Rs 5 billion accruing in losses due to booking cancellations.

Photograph: Courtesy @KeralaToruism/Twitter.

A notice from the Kerala Tourism department. Photograph: Courtesy @KeralaTourism/Twitter.

Kerala Tourism has drawn up God’s Own Country 2.0; a 12-point recovery plan that aims to recreate the state in its image of a place of pristine beauty and also one that needs to be protected and preserved for the world. Hence, a roadmap for sustainable tourism has been penciled in, with a campaign to promote responsible travel and stay options.

A motorboat moves past a row of empty houseboats in a tributary of the Pamba river following floods in Alappuzha district in the southern state of Kerala in August. Photograph: Sivaram V/Reuters.

A motorboat moves past a row of empty houseboats in a tributary of the Pamba river following floods in Alappuzha district. Photograph: Sivaram V/Reuters

Officials have put together a report on the state’s tourism readiness. The report outlines the extent of damage caused by the floods to state infrastructure. It highlights the steps taken to restore things to normalcy and rebuild the road-rail connections to different tourist spots.  

Tourist arrivals over the years

The department also intends to present the state as a diversified basket of experiences. The idea is to offer a holistic view of the state’s heritage instead of simply presenting the clichéd view that showcases its dances and theatrical traditions.

A fishing boat sits on the sea near Kovalam Beach, about 20 km (12 miles) south of Trivandrum, in Kerala. Photograph: Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters.

A fishing boat sits on the sea near Kovalam Beach, about 20 km south of Trivandrum, in Kerala. The farthest south areas of Kerala were less affected and were open for business for tourists much earlier.  Photograph: Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters

Tourism is central to the Kerala’s economic well-being. According to a report by research agency Icra, travel and tourism accounts for around 10 per cent of Kerala’s gross state domestic product and for around 25 per cent of the jobs in the state.

During CY2017, domestic tourists to Kerala grew by 11.4 per cent to 14.7 million while foreign tourist arrivals grew by 5.2 per cent to 1.09 million.

An all-women group of Norwegian tourists tour the Poothotta backwaters on September 18 after the flood waters ebbed. Photograph: Courtesy @KeralaToruism/Twitter.

An all-woman group of Norwegian tourists tour the Poothotta backwaters on September 18 after the flood waters ebbed. Photograph: Courtesy @KeralaTourism/Twitter.

Total foreign exchange from the tourism sector during CY2017 grew by 8.3 per cent to Rs 83.92 billion while the total revenue from tourism grew by 12.6 per cent to Rs 333.84 billion, according to the report.

Flooding in 2018 per district and relation to tourist arrivals per district

Last year (2017) the tourist inflow was the highest in nine years, according to the government of Kerala. “The first half of 2018 was also favourable, but floods have slowed down the flow,” said Bala Kiran, director, Kerala Tourism. People are afraid to travel and many have cancelled their plans at the last minute, leading to a big loss in revenue.

Volunteers collect household items in the lawns of a residential house before cleaning the house following floods in the Kuttanad. Photograph: Sivaram V/Reuters.

Volunteers collect household items on the lawns of a residential house before cleaning the house following floods in the Kuttanad. Photograph: Sivaram V/Reuters.

The state has worked round-the-clock to ensure that around 99 per cent of all the destinations are now open for tourists, says Kiran. The full survey with on-the-ground reports on the extent of damage to each tourist destination and the state of recovery has also been presented to tour operators and travel bloggers. Kiran says that the state would also point travellers to the fact that during the calamity, not one tourist was injured.

While the 12-point plan is largely a damage control exercise, it is also an opportunity to reimagine the state as a tourism brand. For many years now, Kerala has showcased its natural beauty while promoting its music and dance performances as the high points of a deeply cultural experience.

Kerala Tourism's selfie campaign to promote visibility of tourists in the state. Photograph: Courtesy @KeralaToruism/Twitter.

Kerala Tourism's selfie campaign to promote the visibility of tourists in the state. Photograph: Courtesy @KeralaTourism/Twitter.

Foreign tourists flock in to Kerala to experience its cultural heritage, Kiran points out. And he feels that it is time to showcase the idea that Kerala’s cultural heritage isn’t limited to the performances on stage. “It is ingrained in one’s way of life and travelers can experience the richness of Kerala, be it via temple festivals, cuisine, rural crafts, folk forms or traditional and popular art forms."

It is back to business for Kerala fisherfolk. Photograph: Courtesy @KeralaToruism/Twitter.

It is back to business for Kerala fisherfolk. Photograph: Courtesy @KeralaTourism/Twitter.

The government is also hosting a travel mart and participating in travel shows across the world. Keen to get the word out, not merely among the traditional community of travel agents and tour operators, it is also getting more aggressive on digital media. It has invited bloggers, travel experts and influencers to experience the destinations and write about them.

Kerala Tourism's selfie campaign to promote visibility of tourist in the state. Photograph: Courtesy @KeralaToruism/Twitter.

Kerala Tourism has kicked off a campaign where it highlights tourist arrivals. Photograph: Courtesy @KeralaTourism/Twitter.

Kiran said that there is also going to be an increased emphasis on events such as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and the Champions Boat League, a traditional boat race.

Apart from repairing the physical damage, managing global perceptions to nurse inbound travel back to normalcy will be important according to the report by Icra.

The Samsonite suitcase campaign to boost tourism titled We are Open. Photograph: Courtesy Samsonite.

The Samsonite suitcase campaign to boost tourism titled: We are Open. Photograph: Courtesy Samsonite.

“Going by experience, recovery is a function of several factors, geographic spread and extent of damage, the speed and quality of recovery, affordable low-cost connectivity for the traveller community and the profile of tourists,” says Pavethra Ponniah, vice president and sector head, Icra.

Graphics by Ashish Narsale and Gagan Bansal. Information for the graphics courtesy, Kerala Tourism.

T E Narasimhan in Thiruvananthapuram
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