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Policymakers, experts chart out measures to revive the tourism sector at KLA Global conference

Suman Billa, Director, Technical Cooperation and Silk Road, UNWTO, said Kerala should ramp up its commitment to Responsible Tourism and move towards declaring the whole state as an RT destination in the light of changing consumer preferences towards zero carbon destinations and zero food miles besides factoring environmental costs beyond economic costs.

India has a robust domestic market, and Kerala, famous for its products like wellness, houseboats, and home stays, would emerge strongly, he said, addressing a session at the three-day “Kerala Looks Ahead” (KLA) global conference and consultation that began on Monday.

“Kerala also needs to add ‘instagrammable’ activities to attract the younger clientele,” he stressed.

Billa said UNWTO had described 2020 as the worst year ever for tourism with international tourist arrivals plummeting by 74 per cent, which translated into one billion less international tourists, 1.3 trillion dollars less in export revenues and a loss of 100-120 million direct jobs in the sector.

He, however, exuded hope that the pre-pandemic levels of international travel may be achieved in 2023-24.

Billa said the Spice Route project is the ideal vehicle to take Kerala’s tourism to the next level to build a compelling story and expand the footprint in its key markets.

Tourism Minister Shri Kadakampally Surendran, in his opening remarks, said the state has taken several steps to preserve and revive tourism so that it will remain on a firm footing to meet the demand during the post-COVID times.  “For that, we must first promote domestic tourism. Health tourism can also provide enough opportunities. We have now tailored our tourism policy to suit to the COVID times.”

While emphasizing the need to leverage the existing projects, he also listed the new areas like adventure tourism, promotion of the Malabar region in a big way, boosting the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and supporting the Muziris Heritage projects. “The adventure tourism academy in Thiruvananthapuram is in the final stages and in Malabar we are linking eight rivers of Kannur and Kasaragod to promote cruise tourism,” he informed.

In his introductory remarks, Dr Venu V, Member-Secretary, Planning Board, said the state needs to look into the changing trends in national and international tourism as the present crisis from COVID is the worst in nearly a century.

Christina Beckmann, Vice President, Global Strategy for Adventure Travel Trade Association & Co-Founder of Tomorrow’s Air, spoke about the ‘future of active holidays, particularly destinations like Kerala’.

Drawing from research conducted in the US, she said 72 per cent of adventure travelers are looking for nature and outdoor activities while 12 per cent are interested in ecotourism and sustainable travel options. “This bodes well for coastal destinations of Kerala and there really is an audience that is interested in specifically what your Kerala has to offer,” she added.

‘Tourism Marketing in a post-COVID Scenario’ was the topic discussed by Dr Nimit Ranjan Chowdhary, Professor, Department of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Jamia Millia Islamia. “Tourism is not just about visiting a place; it is about creating transformation. Tourism strategy should revolve around creating transformative experiences for tourists. Transformation should be the key,” he stressed.

Dr. Harold Goodwin, Founder Director, International Centre for Responsible Tourism, UK, spoke about the need for promoting Responsible Tourism. “Kerala is currently the world leader in Responsible Tourism. I have no doubt about that in terms of a destination, which has played remarkable progress. It has some of the world’s leading businesses, but it’s really at the destination that it stands out as being so different,” he said.

“In a very much changed world, I am not one of those who think that they will be returned to business as usual, I think the post-COVID world is going to be a different world. And we’re going to have to learn to live with COVID,” he added.

Dipak Deva, Managing Director, Travel Corporation India Limited, while talking on ‘Future of Tourism in Kerala’, noted that on a holiday of a lifetime, people need to come to Kerala now. “COVID has been such a life-threatening experience for people across the world that it gives a whole new meaning to the travel experience,” he said.

“Kerala is also an ideal destination for honeymoons. There have been many people who have got married around the world but have not left their country for their honeymoon. Kerala should capture this segment,” he noted.