The vintage Kerala is almost back to its pristine glory with little or no trace of floods or its resulting disruptions to tourism movement or destination experience visible anywhere. If the recent floods across Kerala was catastrophic and most severe in the last 100 years with estimates of damages varying across a staggering 20,000 to 30,000 crores, then the state of Kerala also came together across sectors, public and private, institutions, individuals, businesses to surmount an unprecedented effort of rehabilitation and rebuilding, although still ongoing, that shows a Kerala, in less than three weeks of a devastating flood, as it was, alluring, enchanting, welcoming, God’s own country.
If tourism is Kerala’s economic mainstay, KTM is ‘The’ event that has showcased the state most effectively to trade buyers from across the country and globe in order to make that happen. A deferred or cancelled KTM would have sent out messages to industry buyers from all over the world to the detriment of tourism in Kerala. And only three weeks ago, virtually the entire tourism and hospitality industry was writing off KTM 2018 as an event either cancelled or postponed in the aftermath of the devastating flood.
However, landed in Kochi on 22nd September, a key tourism hotspot of the state, and interacted with some of the key tourism industry stakeholders over the course of the day and further travelled to Alleppy, Kumarakom, Thekkady, and Marari over the next few days before I am back to Kochi in time for KTM on 27th, I see a Kerala that is as ready to welcome tourists from across the country and globe as it was on any of my previous visits.
I see an industry that is even more resolute than ever before. And I see the forthcoming edition of KTM that kick-starts in just a few days on 27th not just strongest ever, but far more bigger in attendance than any previous editions, be it the buyers or the exhibitors.
KTM is not just alive and kicking, its hosting close to 600 international buyers from over 66 countries, far more than the 350 odd international buyers who attended the show in the previous edition. Its contingent of international media is the largest ever, and together with members of press from across India, are being taken to almost every corner of the state to visit and see the various tourism hotspots strewn all across Kerala and the state’s tourism preparedness that is as good as ever, or even better as some of the stakeholders I met today, said.
I have been a regular at KTMs in the last decade, but have restricted myself to attending and covering the mart and business meetings. Five days of leisure travel or familiarisation tour is a luxury, and for a month like September with a busy calendar like recently concluded IATO Convention, the first edition of International Travel Mart earlier this week in Delhi, the annual FHRAI Convention in Lucknow that concluded yesterday, KTM in Kochi and the TAFI Convention that starts the day after in Abu Dhabi; this familiarisation tour would have been unthinkable. But this year was different, besides the organisers insisted that I experience the destination first hand, clearly an effective statement about the state’s tourism readiness or as some were calling earlier in the evening as a ‘New Kerala’ or ‘Second Version of Kerala’.
During a press meet in New Delhi on September 17th Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran said that one of the sectors was deeply affected by the floods was tourism – a major contributor to the Kerala’s economy and a significant source of Foreign Exchange Earnings (FEE). The floods left the tourism industry in a state of despair and shock, “but only for a while.” With the untiring efforts of the state and its people things are back to normal. Restoration and rehabilitation is going in full swing, road connectivity is established and hotels & resorts are operating as usual. Kerala is back on track and God’s Own country is ready to welcome the guest.
The state tourism department’s crisis management worked overtime to overcome any hurdles in the aftermath of flood. Kerala Tourism Secretary Rani George informs that the department chalked out a 12 point action-plan immediately after the floods. The priority was given to restoring the connectivity and with the support of Public Works Department. It was done in a time bound manner. In an attempt to know the current grass route situation of connectivity, accommodation and availability of basic facilities Kerala Tourism conducted a ‘tourism readiness survey’. The information received from all the districts shows that almost 90 percent regions of Kerala are ready to host the guest.
While at the same time industry stakeholders from public and private sector galvanised resources to create KTM that will not only boasts of a record participation but also of a staggering growth over the previous edition. KTM Society President, Baby Mathew, informs that the number of Foreign Buyers has gone up to 590 from 66 countries and domestic buyers has gone up to a total of 1090. There are 350 sellers from Kerala participating at the Mart. The demands were very high from the sellers so the KTM society has to add 80 more stalls which makes the total tally of 385 stalls.
KTM’s Founding President and Sr. Vice President of IATO, EM Najeeb says that the tourism industry of Kerala is working together as one team for the cause of tourism for the last 30 years. He is confident, the recent flood havocs notwithstanding, that the private sector will stand shoulder to shoulder with the state department of tourism in achieving the ambitious target of doubling the international and domestic tourism arrivals in next three years.
Looking at the way the industry has responded to the unprecedented flood challenge, the flood devastation might as well be a boon in disguise for the state and it’s tourism sector as it moves forward with plans and policies that doesn’t just work for tourism numbers but also towards sensitivity for its tourism resources and environmental sensitivities.