The pall of gloom that had descended on Kerala’s globally famed tourism and hospitality industry in the wake of the August floods appears to have lifted if the message filtering from the just concluded Kerala Travel Mart -2018 is any indication. With the state ticking all the boxes to win back the confidence of tourists, God’s Own Country has bounced back with an incredible resilience, removing any lingering apprehension about its preparedness to receive visitors in the October-March tourist season.
It is true the initial portents were extremely unnerving for the state’s tourism industry. The floods had rampaged through 12 of Kerala’s 14 districts. The tourism infrastructure, especially roads got affected while a string of bookings were cancelled in August. In effect, Kerala Tourism was staring at a loss of Rs 1,000 crore, a sector that contributed Rs 33,000 crore in 2017, accounting for 10 per cent of the state’s GDP and a little over 23 per cent of its total employment. In fact, there were doubts whether the KTM (Sept. 27-30) would be held at all. But the biennial showpiece event, India’s biggest conclave of tourism sector stakeholders from across the world, was not only held but it also turned out to be an unqualified success.
Facts speak for themselves: 35,000 business meets involving 1,635 buyers shortlisted from 7,000 applicants (545 of them from 66 foreign countries – the highest in the KTM history so far), 325 sellers in 400-odd stalls and the highest number of foreign buyers from US and the UK. That definitely showed the trust of global tourism industry in Kerala.
“It is historic, coming as it is a month after the worst natural calamity our people faced. I even wonder how our tourism would have got back to track but for this KTM edition coming at the right time,” Kerala Tourism Secretary Mrs. Rani George said about the event. Her sentiments were echoed by Kerala Tourism Director P Bala Kiran. “The KTM lent a smile of hope to the faces in the industry in contrast to a general gloom that prevailed among its captains till a week ago. This edition proved that KTM is not a celebratory event, but a business meet. It’s a positive lesson not just for us in Kerala, but the whole of India and even the world,” he noted.
A major advantage of the KTM was that it successfully built confidence among tourists and other stakeholders of the industry in particular and made a perceptional change among the people in general about the post-floods Kerala. It also sent out a screaming message to the world that the state had brazened out the adversity with a remarkable degree of gumption and resilience and speedily too. More than that, it gave a platform to the government and other stakeholders to discuss the future roadmap for the tourism industry, which is the third highest revenue-earner after remittances from the Malayali Diaspora and the animal husbandry.
The KTM, inaugurated by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, announced plans to reinvent its decade-old responsible tourism, update customised packages, strengthen tools of publicity, broaden the tourism map and spruce up heritage spots to increase the footfalls. When put into practice, it would give a huge fillip in further promoting public-private participation in the fields of travel and hospitality, wellness and culture.
Take the example of Nefertiti, the Egyptian themed luxury vessel of the Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC). To be launched by this month-end, it may chart a new course in cruise tourism in Kerala. Named after the beautiful Egyptian queen Nefertiti, it will have several features to remind the people aboard of one of the oldest civilizations of the world. The Chaliyar River Challenge 2018 (a 68-km kayaking championship), which is aimed at tapping the potential of adventure tourism in the state, will also be held as per the schedule. The recent installation of a giant sculpture of the Jatayu bird mentioned in the Ramayana, a new addition in the inventory of Kerala Tourism, and the Muziris Poject are sure to woo the visitors.
Further, the slant on Responsible Tourism (RT), a major USP of the tourism industry that has completed a decade in Kerala, is likely to trigger schemes that promote jobs. The RT–related schemes currently provide jobs to 30,000 families, while 7,800 of them are direct beneficiaries. According to experts, RT will give jobs to one lakh people by the end of FY 2017-18, while 10,000 RT units will be set up in the state by November.
A visibly relieved Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran appeared to be more than happy on the occasion. “A survey will be conducted seeking the possibility of offering job opportunities through tourism for people in the state’s flood-hit areas. Students of Kerala Institute Tourism and Travel Studies (KITTS) will conduct the survey among the natives in this regard. It will help bring more people to the tourism sector,” he said.
The government has earmarked Rs 700 crore for the tourism sector under the Nava Kerala reconstruction activities. The administration is also mulling about modifying certain laws for better tourism practices in the state, he said, adding: Kerala is back on track. God’s Own Country is ready to welcome tourists once again.”
Kerala Tourism has surely found its feet once again. But it needs to learn lessons from the catastrophe, lend an aggressive edge to its tourism revival plan and develop new products and services for realizing the government’s target of increasing tourism’s share to 20% of its GDP by 2020.