Kerala Tourism registered marginal growth in both international and domestic tourist arrivals last year even though it had to suffer the brunt of devastating floods and landslides in August. Having overcome the ordeal with a remarkable swiftness, it is now going ahead with its aggressive marketing and promotional initiatives in the domestic and international markets to lure more tourists. TTJ interacts with Shri P Bala Kiran (IAS), Director, Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala to know more about the state in the current context.
Rising like a phoenix
The Tourism Department has set a target to double the foreign tourist arrival to the state from the current 10 lakhs a year to 20 lakhs by 2020 and increase the domestic tourist visits by 50 per cent in the next two years. Sharing further Shri Bala Kiran tells, “We were able to maintain the growth momentum in 2018 on both domestic and international arrivals by targeting source markets and segmenting them into core and promising markets. The underlying thought behind such a strategy is to hammer out strategies based on the distinct requirements of the markets. Our traditional core markets are the USA, UK, France and the Middle East. The promising markets identified are Malaysia, China, Japan, Israel and Australia. We are trying to tap into these promising markets by organising partnership meets and participating in travel fairs.”
Further, Responsible Tourism (RT), which was launched a decade ago, has become the mainstay of Kerala Tourism wherein the local community has been reaping benefits of tourism with a sustained effort on environment conservation. Shri Bala Kiran comments, “The project has succeeded in creating a chain of dedicated entrepreneurs and is expected to create a large number of employment opportunities, earn revenue and preserve local culture and traditions. The RT initiative will be expanded across the state. Significantly, the UNWTO has described responsible tourism programme as a model for other destinations to replicate. Kerala is also the first state to implement UNWTO’s call for ‘Tourism for All Promoting Universal Accessibility’ in 2016. Kerala Tourism recently launched the first phase of its ‘Barrier-free Kerala’ project, which has made around 70 tourist destinations in the state differently abled and elderly-friendly. The goal is to make all tourism destinations in Kerala differently abled-friendly by 2020.”
A major hindrance that has affected Kerala’s tourism was the devastating flood that happened in August last year. But within four months, it managed to recover through concerted efforts, and it is now on the growth trajectory. Shri Bala Kiran asserts, “From last December onwards, the negative trend has been bucked. In fact, the first quarter of 2019 registered a growth of more than eight per cent compared to last year which is a huge achievement for us. Many thought that Kerala’s tourism would take one-and-a-half years to bounce back from the flood. But we were able to sufficiently recover within just four months.”
At the same time Shri Bala Kiran feels that another hindrance is increasing competition from other states and neighbouring countries. He says, “We are now positioning ourselves as a destination, which sells humanscape along with landscape. We are strongly pitching Kerala’s culture, history and people at the forefront of our campaign. We think it will put us in a new league compared to our competitors.”
Kerala’s peak tourist season is from October to March. But the monsoon during June-September is the lean season for tourism in the state. Kerala Tourism policy now talks about making the state a 365-day destination with various new programmes and products to lure tourists during the monsoon as well. One such programme is annual Nishagandhi monsoon music festival which is going to happen from July, where world famous vocal artists and musicians will be participating in it. Shri Bala Kiran shares, “It will be followed by the launch of the Champions Boat League in early August, which would go until November. Conceived in the IPL format, it is going to be the main driver of monsoon tourism this year. Every weekend any tourist, who comes to Kerala, will be able to witness one ‘Champions Boat Race’ in any of the tourism backwaters. It will end with the President’s Trophy Boat Race in Kollam on November 1 (the state’s formation day), holding 12 races during the intervening weekends. It will make a world class experience for tourists. Thirdly, in order to promote Kerala as the romantic destination during monsoon, we are planning aggressive marketing both in domestic and international media.”
Upcoming destinations and tourism products
As for the new destinations and products, the launch of Jatayu Earth Centre – the world’s largest functional bird sculpture together with an adventure zone, a virtual reality museum and a state-of-the-art ropeway to reach the destination, could be among the new tipping points for the state’s tourism. Very optimistic, Shri Bala Kiran tells, “The objective is to rebrand Kerala as the ‘Land of Adventure’. The government has already finalised a set of safety and security guidelines. Highest safety standards and uniform standardisation of procedures will be implemented in the Adventure Tourism sector. Special permits will be given to ensure safety. We are targeting to double the participation of tourists in one year by promoting adventure tourism in the state. Another innovative project to lure tourists is the ` 325 crore Malabar river cruise project in North Kerala. Christened as Malanadu-Malabar Cruise, linking eight rivers and backwaters of Kannur and Kasargod districts, it would soon commence construction of modern boat terminals and jetties equipped with advanced facilities for tourists. Moreover, there are plans to develop theme parks, light and sound shows at Bekal and Kannur and musical fountain in various picturesque districts of the state.”
He further says, “The newly-opened Kannur International Airport will give a huge impetus to exploit the untapped tourism potential of North Kerala. This airport will establish Malabar, which shares boundaries with Coorg, Coimbatore and Mysuru, as the new tourism gateway to South India. Also, Kerala Tourism will continue to leverage established destinations in North Kerala such as Bekal and Wayanad, while giving thrust to lesser known micro destinations in Kannur and Kasaragode districts such as Valiyaparamba backwaters, Kuppam and Ranipuram. Kerala has also secured the Centre’s approval for ` 91.72 crore proposal to improve tourist amenities in 147 pilgrim centres of different faiths across the state. The project will be implemented as part of the Pilgrim Tourism Third Circuit Development Plan under which basic infrastructures in major Hindu, Muslim and Christian pilgrim centres in all the 14 districts will be created by demarcating them into seven clusters.”
Synergising government and public sector
Kerala Tourism is driven by the PPP model and works in close tandem with private players and other stakeholders in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Shri Bala Kiran elucidates, “It actively collaborates with Kerala Travel Mart (KTM), India’s largest gathering of tourism stakeholders. Last year’s edition of KTM saw the participation of over 1,500 buyers from 66 countries. For all its roadshows in India and abroad, Kerala Tourism’s delegation has always had a fair representation of private players. Tourism is a huge segment with a diverse range of activities, and it needs active collaboration between the government and the private players.”
Marketing campaigns and promotional strategies
Kerala Tourism has formulated aggressive marketing and promotional initiatives in the domestic and international markets to increase the footfalls in the state. It has launched a new brand campaign, ‘Human by Nature’, a part of the marketing initiative to refurbish the perception of the state’s tourism sector. Giving details on this very creative campaign, Shri Bala Kiran shares, “The new campaign has been designed in such a way that it will appeal to both high spenders and backpackers and firmly entrench Kerala’s tourism in a competitive global marketplace. The campaign would run in Kerala Tourism’s key markets, such as the USA, the UK, the Gulf, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium. The film is being promoted in international and national print and electronic media as well as OOH in India and abroad. The video campaign through the social media has generated a lot of public interest with more than 40 million views in three months. The mission is to peg Kerala as an enriching and soul-stirring travel experience. We have also planned a series of partnership meets in major Indian cities such as Jaipur, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Visakhapatnam, Chennai and Madurai.”
Placing Kerala on the MICE map of the country
Shri Bala Kiran truly believes that MICE is the most important and relevant segment to promote at the moment. “It is true that Kerala has not figured prominently in the ‘meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions’ (MICE) tourism destinations of the country. In order to address this issue, the Tourism Department will hold the national convention of MICE stakeholders in Kochi by August in association with Indian Convention Promotion Bureau (ICPB), a body formed under the Ministry of Tourism to promote the country as a venue for international conferences and exhibitions. It will firmly help to promote MICE in Kerala,” he concludes.