Eighty-six-year-old Daphne Clara Richards arrived in Kerala on September 4 for her 27th visit to Kerala and made her way to Mararikulam in Alappuzha. She visits the state twice a year, and did not let the recent deluge put a spoke in her travel plans. For the beleaguered travel industry, her faith in Kerala came as a shot in the arm.
The sun is finally out. While it shines on its beaches, backwaters and verdant hill ranges, players in the tourism sector are busy trying to make the most of what’s left of the year, after substantial losses caused by the recent floods. At stake is the State’s ₹34,000 crore tourism industry. “We are happy to showcase the ‘Keralaness’. There is a diversity of experiences to be explored here and we invite visitors to enjoy the culture, art, food and landscape of the State,” says Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
Now, all eyes are on the 10th edition of the biennial Kerala Travel Mart (KTM), which opens today in Kochi, the first of a series of mega events intended to showcase a resilient state.
“The tourist season is from October onwards, and by then Kerala will be on track to roll out the red carpet to visitors,” assures Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran. He adds, “A Kerala Tourism Readiness survey, undertaken by the government to evaluate the state of affairs, showed that most properties are up and running. A 12-point action plan, charted to rejuvenate the tourism sector, gives priority to restoring roads. Other than certain sections in Pathanamthitta, we are open for business. The presentation will be up at the KTM and then at an international tourism mart in Mumbai on October 6.”
The theme of KTM is Malabar and the focus will be on art, culture, food and natural attractions of this region. “In addition, we will be highlighting tourist spots from Wayanad to Thiruvananthapuram,” explains Rani George, Secretary, Tourism in Kerala. She adds, “More than 500 overseas buyers from 65 countries and 1,095 domestic buyers are participating in the mart. Groups will go on experiential trips to South, Central and North Kerala.” Kerala Tourism will participate in six trade meets in UK, Russia, Malaysia, Japan, Singapore and China, and 26 business-to-meets in different countries, and follow them up with road shows and aggressive campaigns that showcase the State.
In the meantime, to supplement the government’s efforts, Kerala’s tourism industry is set to flex its muscles to restore shine to the sector.
“Kerala Tourism Task Force (KTTF), composed of 32 travel-related bodies, such as resort owners, hoteliers, boathouse operators, homestay owners and so on, met in Thiruvananthapuram to take hard decisions and to plan for the long-term,” explains Baby Mathew, president of the Kerala Travel Mart Society. “The plan is to focus on community-centred tourism, and to actively encourage craftspersons and rural communities to earn a livelihood, and keep alive skills of local artisans. There will be trips to familiarise tour operators with Kerala. Our slogan is Rebuild Tourism, Rebuild Kerala.”
Some of the KTM members travelled to major destinations to assess the situation on the ground. On September 6, Kochi-based Eastbound Discoveries organised a trip for 14 tour operators from South America to go around Kumarakom to experience the Village Life experience offered by Responsible Tourism Mission under the Government of Kerala. “We took the operators to villages to show them how the community had recovered. As a confidence-building measure, five American tourists were given a sumptuous ethnic meal at Samrudhi Nadan Bhakshanashala, an eatery operated by a group of women under the Kudumbashree programme (a women empowerment and poverty eradication programme implemented by the State Poverty Eradication Mission of the Government of Kerala),” explains K Rupesh Kumar, coordinator of Responsible Tourism Mission.
Another group of domestic tour operators will visit Thrissur this week. To prove that all is smooth sailing in Kerala, more than 300 houseboats are likely to participate in a fête in Alappuzha on October 5. In the meantime, the first chartered flight post the flood landed at the Cochin International Airport on September 15, with 46 tourists from Australia on board.
While it certainly augurs well for the hard-hit tourism sector, Harji Singh, managing director of Trans Indus, India, cautions that unless the goodwill, earned by the impressive way in which the people and the State government got their act together , is carried forward with zeal and imagination, the efforts to boost tourism will come to nought. “The flood has put Kerala on the world map. Now, it is for the government to cash in on the goodwill with some quick thinking and creative packages. I had a batch of tourists who got stuck in Kerala during the flood. But all the hotels offered complete refunds and that created a lot of goodwill. I was able to re-route my guests and move them to the south of Kerala via Tamil Nadu and all of them flew out from Thiruvananthapuram airport, with happy memories. That kind of efficiency will go a long way in restoring confidence.”
garbage disposal on a war footing and come up with practical solutions to de-congest roads. His solution is to improve public transport and revive waterways for freight movement. He adds, “We must revive our practice of homestead farming to boost the economy, promote local crafts and artisans, and strive to give tourists an experience that is unique to Kerala.”
The hills around Munnar are blue with Neelakurinji, which flowers every 12 years.
Malabar River Cruise project, focusing on eight rivers in Malabar, aims to link the rivers and promote a range of activities such as boating, angling and white water rafting.
The fourth edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the biggest contemporary art event in Asia, will be held from December 12, 2018 to March 29, 2019.
Champions Boat League, which had to be cancelled due to the flood, is likely to be held later this year.
Ayurveda-Yoga wellness route, which lays emphasis on treatment of lifestyle illnesses.
Village life experience.
The Jatayu Earth’s Center at Chadayamangalam, Kollam
Rising like a Phoenix
All hands are on deck to ensure that the properties are spruced up by October 1. “On August 16, when the water swept into our resort The Village at Angamaly, we were devastated. All four of our cottages by Manjali Thodu were inundated and water rose to the ceiling within three hours. The place was cut off!,” recalls Gisy Kurian, an ophthalmologist in Kochi. Her family owns the resort on a 15-acre plot in Angamaly.
They had to wait till the water receded. The four cottages by the river were filled with ankle-deep slush, and all the furniture, electric wiring and plumbing had been damaged. “We have a pond on our property that supplies all our water. That had to be cleaned. In addition, we had to repaint, rewire and furnish all the four cottages as nothing could be salvaged. We suffered damages of ₹50 lakhs approximately. In addition to our staff, we hired workers for the cleaning and repairing. Although the cottages might take some more time, the rest of the resort is all set for the season,” she explains. Their first guests arrived on September 25.