Getting back up again in Kerala

Tourism in flood-battered Kerala is rebounding, but the promotional momentum gained while driving its recovery is not about to slow

Traditional Kathakali dancers during a New Year carnival in Kerala

The severe flooding that ravaged Kerala in August 2018 might have washed out the tourism sector in its immediate wake, but the keen sense of collaboration and optimism from the state’s travel and hospitality players are buoying recovery progress.

Key among the promotional efforts the local trade undertook was the Kerala Travel Mart, which took place in September 2018, not long after the devastating floods.

Traditional Kathakali dancers during a New Year carnival in Kerala

E M Najeeb, chairman of Airtravel Enterprises, said: “Tourism and hospitality players (in Kerala) came together and showcased their products in the event. More than 600 overseas buyers and 1,100 domestic buyers attended the mart. The We Are Ready campaign was also projected by the industry and the government on media platforms.”

Najeeb – who is also senior vice president of the Indian Association of Tour Operators – added that it was a message of readiness shown among tour operators and hoteliers at the mart, as they sought to convince overseas buyers and partners to continue selling Kerala to their clients.

Going ahead with the Kerala Travel Mart was also deemed a good move by Dipak Deva, managing director of Sita – the inbound arm of Thomas Cook India – as it gave a “positive sign to foreign tour operators” that it was business as usual in the state.

The DMC “did not receive a single cancellation from the Kerala floods”, suggesting the “confidence” clients had of the state as well as in the company, said Deva.

“The best way forward would be for the entire industry to come together and send a positive message about Kerala being an important tourism destination of India, and encourage travellers to take a holiday to Kerala, thereby contributing to its recovery,” he opined.

Meanwhile, Thomas Cook India has lent its support to Kerala’s tourism players during the crisis period by pre-paying, as well as making deposits to its ground suppliers and vendors. The company also undertook the pre-purchasing of inventory for its 4Q winter bookings way in advance, as early as September 2018.

With recovery now underway in the state, the tourism authorities are also keen to brandish an image of normality for Kerala.

P Bala Kiran, director, Kerala Tourism shared: “We have restored the connectivity, infrastructure and tourism experience… All the major tourism destinations – Kochi, Munnar, Thekkady, Athirapally, Wayanad, Alappuzha, Kumarakom, Varkala, Trivandrum, Kovalam and Poovar – are back to normal and receiving guests.”

Hospitality players in the state have also reported an uptick in business, a result of active efforts to rebuild tourism to Kerala from both the government and private sector players.

“We have many Germans and Russians clients coming in for Ayurveda (packages) and staying a minimum of 14 days,” shared Raja Gopaal Iyer, CEO, UDS Group of Hotels.

The continued arrivals of these foreign tourists in turn helped to spread the word that Kerala is fine to visit, Iyer pointed out, as the hotel group also shared guests’ testimonies on social media platforms.

Iyer added: “We are seeing a lot of foreign tour operators coming to Kerala for finalisation of the properties that they are working on. We are also working with tour operators to come up with competitive packages for international markets.”

While Najeeb foresees “natural calamities like floods have only a short-term impact on tourism” for Kerala, an effective international promotional campaign could be a much stronger strategy to improve Kerala’s branding on the global stage.

The Kerala Department of Tourism is far from idle though, as it has participated in 12 international tradeshows beginning with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain since October 2018 to aggressively promote the destination on the global stage.

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