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Raring to go

Friday, October 19, 2018

Post-floods Kerala is all set to receive tourists with several new initiatives, says Ronita Torcato     

For natural history enthusiasts, scenic Kerala is perfect right now to explore the rolling hills of Munnar where the Neelakurinji grows, a rare flower which blooms once every 12 years, covering the landscape with a luxuriant carpet of lilac and blue. Travellers can also savour Kerala's beauty by trekking, cycling or biking there, or attend the Nehru Trophy Boat Race (snake boat race on November 10) at the Punnamada Lake in Alappuzha and participate in the Chaliyar River Challenge 2018, 68-km kayaking championship. Or sail down dreamy waterscapes in the Nefertiti, the Egyptian themed luxury vessel of the Kerala Shipping and Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC), which is to be launched by the month-end.

Downed (for a while) by a tsunami but not out, Kerala is gung ho with several new initiatives that will excite both domestic and foreign tourists, Kerala government officials led by Rani George, IAS and Secretary, Department of Tourism, told a group of enthusiastic stakeholders from the tourism and hospitality industry.

Tourism has generated as many as 15 lakh jobs and contributes approximately 10% of Keralan GDP. In 2017, Kerala earned revenue totalling `32,380 crores from tourism. The prospects seemed even brighter with the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) slotting Kerala at number eight in its roster of 12 destinations to watch. Kerala was the only Indian destination to feature in the list, leaving behind top draw destinations like Goa, South Africa and Vietnam. Another feather in its cap came from  Kumarakom, which bagged the prestigious Responsible Tourism award at London World Travel Mart last year.

Then the storm broke. The August deluge and cancellations in its aftermath inflicted a loss of approximately `1500 crore. But Kerala is back and raring to go, despite the Central Government's ban on foreign aid. The just concluded Kerala Travel Mart (KTM) 2018, was attended by over 1500 buyers from across 66 countries. And the Mumbai Trade Meet was a full house program with delegates regaled by eye-popping performances of classical Mohini Attam, Kathakali and Kalaripayattu, arguably, the oldest martial art in the world.

"Sixty of the 70 major tourist destinations in 14 districts have resumed operations. That is, almost 90% of the major tourist destinations including Munnar, Thekkady, Alappuzha, and Kumarakom were found either restored or unaffected by the flood in a survey undertaken by district level officials. Only a few destinations in Palakkad and Thrissur such as Neliyampathy and Silent Valley require restoration of road connectivity,” the Tourism Secretary said.

“At KTM, industry stakeholders showed huge confidence in the state’s readiness to host tourists. The most important task now is to tell the world we are back on track and ready to receive tourists from everywhere,” Mrs George said. "We have founded a Responsible Tourism Mission. Our new tourism policy focuses in depth on sustainable, responsible and environment-friendly tourism”.

Enumerating new experiences for travellers, Mrs George said the Jatayu Earth Centre in South Kerala, which has the world’s largest bird sculpture (of Jatayu mentioned in the epic Ramayana), a virtual reality museum and a state-of-the-art ropeway to reach the destination, could be among the stellar attractions in the state.  The giant statue of Jatayu is 200 feet long, 150 feet wide and 70 feet in height, making it the largest functional bird sculpture in the world.

The Kerala government has also decided to leverage the enormous potential of Malabar as an alluring tourist destination, with a high-tech digital facility, known as ‘SMiLE Virtual Tour Guide’ to provide detailed information on 40 Malabar attractions.

“The international airport at Kannur is scheduled to open in December, and Kerala Tourism hopes to establish Malabar, which shares boundaries with Coorg, Coimbatore and Mysuru, as the new tourism gateway to the state,” the Tourism Secretary said.                                                                       

For art aficionados, the immensely popular Kochi-Muziris Biennale,co-founded in 2010 by artists Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu, will be holding its fourth edition from December 12, 2018 and will run till March 2019. An international exhibition of contemporary art, the Bienniale has given Kochi the status of the art capital of India.

For history buffs, there is the Muziris Heritage Project. The remains of a once thriving ancient sea port frequented by Arabs, Romans, Egyptian  traders as early as the first century BC, Muziris  is today preserved across 25 museums as the largest heritage conservation project in India and Kerala's first Green Project. Kerala has 600km of Arabian Sea shoreline, coconut palm-lined beaches, beautiful backwaters and a network of canals  and history buffs can also retrace the Spice Route Project that rekindles 2000-year old ancient sea links and shared cultural and culinary legacies with 30 countries. Interestingly, Arabs comprise a sizeable chunk of tourists in Kerala which also boasts of a distinct cuisine  influenced  by its geography, history and culture.               

Its mountain slopes support tea, coffee and spice plantations and travellers who come in search of an enriching experience can traverse those regions, revel in health and wellness packages at  ayurvedic spas  and attend a plethora of literary, dance and music festivals organised by the Kerala government in collaboration with cultural organisations.

"Sixty of the 70 major tourist destinations in 14 districts have resumed operations.”
- Rani George, Secretary, Department of Tourism

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