The Backwaters of Kerala Making Waves Globally

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The Tourism Department has been actively promoting adventure tourism to entice the adventure enthusiasts from all corners of the world. Emphasising on activities, the Tourism Board has planned to develop water and adventure parks for various water-based activities, says Kadakampally Surendran, Minister for Co-Operation, Tourism and Devaswom, Government of Kerala, in conversation with Arpit Gupta of Elets News Network (ENN).

Give us an overview of tourism growth in Kerala. What were the key initiatives undertaken by the tourism department last year?
The Department of Tourism has been witnessing perennial growth trajectory over the last five years. We aim to double the foreign tourist arrivals and increase domestic tourist arrivals by 50 per cent by 2021. In order to achieve this goal, Kerala Tourism would need a year-on-year growth of 8.45 per cent and 14.87 per cent for domestic and international tourists respectively.

As per the latest tourist arrival statistics, Kerala has received tremendous response from the domestic tourists with an 11.03 per cent growth this year. As many as 10,18,986 new domestic tourists added during January to September 2017 as compared to the previous year (January to September 2016). Significantly, the domestic tourist arrivals have achieved beyond the target set out by the State Tourism Policy. In fact, the growth has almost doubled compared to the last year. Despite major changes in the tourism industry, including enhanced GST rates, the foreign tourist arrivals have also increased by 4.23 per cent during the same time period.

The tourism department has undertaken several initiatives to promote State tourism across the globe. One of the key initiatives undertaken by Kerala Tourism is Responsible Tourism Mission (RTM). Kerala Tourism has been focusing on implementing the master plan for RTM across the State. The world’s first RTM would lead the State through local community and environment- friendliness with rural development and women empowerment.

Owing to the changing preference of the travellers for real travelling experiences through experiencing village life, the tourism department has been working towards promoting homestays and rural tourism as well. Under the new tourism policy, the tourism department has proposed to establish 1,000 new classified homestays in the State at destinations like Malabar region. Kerala Tourism has also planned to implement “Barrier Free Kerala Tourism” this year, which shall result in creating accessible spaces to the differently abled and elderly tourists. Emphasising on cruise tourism and targeting high-spending tourists, Kerala Tourism has envisaged a ‘River Cruise Tourism’ project. With the aim to promote cruise tourism, the Government of Kerala has envisioned Rs 300 crore project for nine rivers in Kannur and Kasaragod.

Kerala is promoting itself in international markets. What are the most sought-after destinations the government is promoting globally?
The focus has been on promoting the unexplored and pristine destinations such as Vaikom, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Bekal, Kannur, Malabar, Kasaasragod and Malappuram with the objective to promote the State tourism in a responsible manner globally. We believe that the northern part of Kerala has a lot of untapped tourism potential. Hence, we have added destinations like Bekal, Kannur, Kozhikode and Malappuram to the promotion and marketing campaigns for the ongoing year. With the aim to increase the geographical spread of tourist arrivals to the State, Kerala Tourism has planned to promote its Malabar region aggressively through a Rs 325-crore project. Further, there are plans to develop theme parks, light and sound show at Bekal and Kannur and musical fountain in various picturesque districts of Kerala.

Kerala Tourism has been following a robust development plan in order to position Kerala as the most preferred destination. How is the Kerala Tourism planning to establish itself as an adventure tourism hub?
The tourism department has been actively promoting adventure tourism to entice the adventure enthusiasts from all corners of the world. Emphasising on activities, the Tourism Board has planned to develop water and adventure parks for various water-based activities. Kerala Tourism has been offering a wide range of activities and water-based activities, which lets tourists have thrilling and refreshing experiences while exploring the natural beauty of the place. The State has in store an array of adventure packed destinations, including gushing rivers, hills, dense forests and vast stretch of the seacoast.

Under the development plans for promoting adventure tourism, the latest development is ‘Adventure Rock Hill’ at the Jatayu Earth Centre, which is now operational for the public in groups. Located in Kollam, there are few more ventures pending to make the Nature Park fully operational. It has a separate adventure zone, which provides over 20 different games such as paintball, archery, laser tag, rifle shooting, rock climbing and rappelling for the tourists. Following a rigorous tourism development plan, we aim to rebrand the state as ‘The Land of Adventure’ to attract the adventure enthusiasts and the young travellers from across the world.

Please give a brief about Vasantholsavam 2018 (Spring Fest 2018), a visual bonanza, which is being organised at Kanakakunnu Palace.
The Department of Tourism and Agriculture will organise Vasantholsavam 2018 between January 7 and 14, 2018, as part of the Kerala Government’s Loka Kerala Sabha. During the festival, a flower show, a medical plants fair, agri-products fair, exhibition and sale of value-added natural products and farming equipment, honey fair, food festival and aquashow would be organised.

The flower show, which will be organised on the aegis of the Kerala Science, Technology and Environment Council, will bring to the venues an array of more than 10,000 varieties of flowers, and herbs. Apart from decorative flowers and plants, the exhibition will also offer flower decoration sessions. Besides, the festival will also display the fast disappearing sacred groves of Kerala, bonsai trees, rare orchids, carnivorous plant species and more. A variety of competitions will also be a part of the festival. Contests on plant decoration, garden techniques, flower plants, anthuriums, orchids, and rose varieties have been lined up. The competitions will also include items like flower arrangement, vegetable carving, bouquet-making, and a ‘Pushparani’ contest. The competitions will be separate for students, professionals and others.

Kerala has come up with the new Tourism Policy, 2017. What are the salient features and how will it give a boost to public-private partnership.
Kerala’s new Tourism Policy, 2017 envisages creation of new customised products for attracting young travellers, professionals, students and artists to the State. The policy emphasises on the active participation of the differently- abled and transgenders while implementing the RTM across the State to promote tourism. The new policy aims to address the key issues of the tourism industry in cooperation with the local bodies such as waste management and renovation of roads.

The Department of Tourism has proposed to establish a Kerala Tourism Regulatory Authority (KTRA) to ensure quality service for tourists and curb unhealthy practices in the tourism sector. An investment cell would be formed to help potential investors, especially NRIs. With the aim to drive growth of the overall tourism sector, the tourism board has also planned to revise the classification system for Ayurveda centres, houseboats and other services with strict norms. In addition to that, a special rating would be introduced for hotels based on the quality of service provided. The priority has always been to promote ‘Responsible Tourism’ with active participation of the local bodies and citizens. The new policy would continue to focus on the main objective of Kerala Tourism.

What are your plans?
The Tourism Department has been following a comprehensive development plans with the aim to position Kerala as one of the most sought-after destinations across the globe. Currently, the department has been channelising its energies towards executing the RTM across the State. To promote the State in a responsible manner, Kerala Tourism has been working collectively with various agencies, bodies, District Tourism Promotion Councils and forest department. The Government of Kerala has allotted Rs 4 crore to the Department of Tourism for fiscal 2017-18 to take Responsible Tourism initiative ahead. The first phase of the mission has been implemented in Vaikom. Kerala Tourism has planned to implement the State in other parts of the State in phases. Besides focusing on RT mission, Kerala Tourism has planned to develop several action and water-based activities such as paragliding, paddling and kayaking in various districts, including Alappuzha, Malabar region, Wayanad and others. With the promotion of adventure tourism in the State, the sole objective is to woo international tourist to the State to increase the foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs).

Following the infrastructure- development plans, Kerala Tourism has been expediting the process of infrastructural development across the State. The objective is to accelerate the growth of the overall tourism sector. The Government of Kerala has planned to develop 10 eco-tourism circuits to connect various forests in order to promote green tourism. The Government of Kerala has also envisioned Rs 300-crore project for nine rivers in Kannur and Kasaragod to promote river tourism. Moreover, there are plans to start the Alappuzha-Kollam boat service through Kayamkulam Kayal, offering sightseers an opportunity to visit Kumarakodi.

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