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Friday, 19 September, 2014, 10 : 00 AM [IST]

Kerala Tourism: Unveiling Hidden Treasures

Kerala Tourism is set to push the envelope with three ambitious products—Muziris Heritage Site, Spice Route Project, and seaplane service. The tourism board expects these products to further enhance the state’s position as a tourist destination in the domestic and international markets. Anish V Punnackattu takes a look at these offerings
The South Indian state of Kerala has gained popularity worldwide with its varied offerings like backwaters, exquisite natural environment, revitalising Ayurveda, spice gardens, cultural diversity, undulating hills, and enchanting forests, to name a few. Due to such vast and diverse characteristics, Kerala has emerged as a popular hot spot for tourists. The Kerala government recognised tourism as an industry in 1976 and the first initiative in this direction started with the launch of an international Beach Resort in Kovalam during the same period. The first Tourism Policy of Kerala was announced in 1995.

At present, Kerala is an internationally acclaimed destination, attracting tourists from across the globe. The transition of Kerala into a favourable tourist destination in the overseas market came about during the period 1986 to 2013. According to statistics by Kerala Tourism, the state recorded 50,000 Foreign Tourist Arrivals (FTAs) in 1986, which increased to 8.5 lakh in 2013.

In 2013, Kerala Tourism registered a growth of 8.12 per cent and 7.75 per cent in (FTAs) and Domestic Tourist Arrivals, respectively, compared with the year ago. The total revenue from the tourism sector last year was Rs 22.926.55 crore.

Presently, Kerala offers backwaters, Ayurveda facilities, hill stations, beaches, home stays, hotels, resorts, arts, handicrafts, wildlife, adventure activities, Responsible Tourism, Ecotourism, Rural Tourism, MICE, Monsoon Tourism, sightseeing and numerous new tourism products, etc., which entice travellers across all segments.

New Products
Apart from its traditional products, Kerala Tourism is in the process to unveil a range of new projects, which will delve into the different stories of the past and present. Kerala Tourism will unveil Muziris Heritage Site (MHS) project near Kochi this month. The main idea of the project is to restore historical and cultural importance of the ancient seaport of Muziris. MHS encompasses over four panchayats in Ernakulam district such as Chennamangalam, Chittatukara, Vadakekkara, Pallippuram and three panchayats in Thrissur district, namely Eriyad, Mathilakam and Sreenarayanapuram. This project has over 23 museums showcasing the history of Muziris. Speaking about MHS project, A P Anilkumar, Minister for Welfare of Scheduled Castes & Backward Classes & Tourism, Govt. of Kerala, said, “The MHS project is an endeavour of the Kerala government to showcase the history and heritage of the 1st century BC port that was once a thriving trade centre and a gateway to India for religious faiths from distant worlds.”

In addition to this, Kerala Tourism has launched the Spice Route Project to revive the ancient path for modern-day travellers. Archaeological evidences from excavations carried out by the Kerala government in Muziris, have already given a huge boost to the Spice Route project. The excavations have pointed at spice trade from Muziris, a flourishing port two millennia ago, to the West, before it mysteriously disappeared. The Spice Route Project is aimed at sharing the significant heritage among the 31 countries along the ancient Route. Around 2,000 years ago, the Route was used by traders of spices and explorers, and connected 31 nations in the past. The Route will connect countries, namely Afghanistan, Burma, China, Denmark, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Greece, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mozambique, Netherlands, Oman, Pakistan, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Syria, Turkey, UK and Yemen, apart from India. Muziris is one of the important destinations on the Spice Route. Kerala Tourism has completed the Spice Route revival in association with UNWTO; and is now requesting other countries to revive the Spice Route in their nations.

unveiling_hidden_treasures_ktm_2014_2.jpgFurthermore, in order to provide last-mile air connectivity, Kerala Tourism will launch the seaplane service commercially in the state this month. The service was launched as a pilot project last year to connect key backwater destinations in Kerala, including Ashtamudi in Kollam, Punnamada in Alappuzha, Kumarakom in Kottayam, and Bekal in Kasaragod districts.

Talking about MHS and seaplane project, Anupama T V, IAS, Additional Director General, Kerala Tourism, said that they are all set to commercially launch seaplane and MHS projects this month. Both projects were launched earlier on a trial basis. Seaplanes will provide last-mile connectivity by air to destinations across the state. The service will initially operate from the three international airports of Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode to connect prime destinations such as Ashtamudi, Punnamada, Kumarakom, Bolgatty and Bekal in the state. The MHS that stretches from the municipality of North Paravur in Ernakulam district to Kodungalloor in Thrissur district is aimed to promote awareness and understanding of the cultural distinctiveness and diversity of Muziris, she added.

unveiling_hidden_treasures_ktm_2014_3.jpgResponsible Tourism
To encourage involvement of local community in tourism, Kerala Tourism launched Responsible Tourism initiatives at seven destinations such as Kumbalangy, Vythiri, Wayanad, Thenmala and Kovalam.

Responsible Tourism initiatives in Kerala were started in 2008 and Kumarakom was the first destination to adopt these practises. Earlier this year, Kumarakom bagged the UNWTO Ullysses Award for Sustainable Tourism, informed Suman Billa, Secretary Tourism, Govt. of Kerala. He said that Kerala Tourism will extend the Responsible Tourism model to 112 panchayats in the state.

Talking about the Responsible Tourism model, Oommen Chandy, Chief Minister, Govt. of Kerala, said that the model has been successful in developing tourism by actively involving the local communities and the government would take all necessary measures to replicate it in 112 panchayats in the first phase. “Responsible Tourism model has opened up various revenue-generating avenues for the local communities and we need to tap its potential to further spur up tourism and economic growth,” Chandy said.

unveiling_hidden_treasures_ktm_2014_4.jpgKumar said that the government wanted to make Responsible Tourism a major revenue-generating model for local communities. The local people should benefit from the growth of the tourism sector in the state. “We will take forward the successful implementation of the Responsible Tourism model across the state through public participation,” Kumar added.

Speaking about the same, E M Najeeb, Chairman and Managing Director, ATE Group of Companies, said that Kerala as an example promotes Sustainable Tourism by stressing on Ecotourism and adopting responsible practices. Tourism should be ecologically sustainable. Kerala gives importance to involving local community in tourism, and thereby leading to overall economical development of various tourist destinations. Qualitative Responsible Tourism, through utmost care taken on the carrying capacity and the preservation of the eco system and human life, is the main objective of tourism in Kerala. The government and the tourism industry in Kerala together accord highest importance to Eco-sensitive Responsible Tourism and work hand-in-hand for the same, Najeeb stated.
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