God's Own Country Remarketed

God's Own Country Remarketed

Fly-by-nighters affecting Kerala tourism

God's Own Country Remarketed

Stills from Kerala Tourism’s film ‘Your Moment is Waiting’.

Kerala Tourism’s latest campaign film “Your Moment Is Waiting” could not have hit the screens at a better moment, when tourism in God’s Own Country is virtually at the crossroads. It has been about two decades since Kerala arrived on the tourism scene with its mesmerising visual splendour. Much water has passed under the Periyar bridge since then that the alert global traveller is today more knowledgeable about the state than the average Keralite.

 After over a year’s lull when tourist arrivals dipped by seven per cent, things are just about looking up in the first half of this year. However, far from the ripple effects of the economic meltdown, other factors have come into play in an industry which had become more of a money-spinner for many entrepreneurs. Its natural splendour is understandably exhausted by over a decade-long media exposure while its infrastructural inadequacies are under close scrutiny.

 No wonder that the three-minute film conceived by Stark Communications and filmed by Prakash Varma stresses on the experience that is Kerala rather than its physical grandeur -- greenery, backwaters, beaches, wildlife and Kathakali. In fact, the film has no trace of its long beaches while the backwaters and wildlife get a more humane treatment rather than look picture perfect. The Kathakali artiste who gestures is shorn of his colourful attire while the theyyam (apparition) gets up close to the traveller and whispers into her ears. The model is also shown strolling through the narrow village paths, rolling on the ground strewn with dry leaves and finally caressing the trunk of a tusker. 

Stress on experience
“Kerala is all about a transforming experience. We want to say that pretty pictures don’t make a destination, but experiences do. We know that the film will resonate and influence how the global traveller thinks about Kerala as a holiday destination,” says Tourism Principal Secretary Dr V Venu. 

The premiere of the film which was held at the Saatchi Gallery last week managed to attract global attention with a cross-section of the London glitterati including soccer stars, actors politicians and socialities turning up for the event. A day later, tour operators, buyers, sellers and media persons who turned up for the sixth edition of Kerala Travel Mart at the Bolgatty island in Kochi were also shown the film. Travel agents and tour operators acknowledged that Kerala was indeed an international brand.
“Travellers to Kerala belong to a niche segment who want to stay for 10 days or more. They are totally different from the ones who frequent Goa,” said Dr Petra Holz of Individuals Asia from Germany.

Kerala's ailments
However, the tour operators who attended the mart also took a more sober view of the state’s tourist experiences this time. “There is a real danger of the unregulated mushrooming of hotels, resorts, ayurveda services and even home stays telling on the quality of service,” said Kartik Dave of ID Global, an international tour operator. “The fact that homes are opening up to tourists is good. But, how many of them are seriously interested in tourism is a moot question,” he said. He demanded that the government take stringent action to check the black sheep, which could block the growth of the industry.

The realisation that all is not well with the tourism industry and that a conscious effort was needed to keep the interest going is also one of the reasons behind the paradigm-defining film. With the annual tourism season just round the corner, the markets have indeed been bringing good tidings for the industry which had witnessed a gloomy 2009. The Kerala Tourism Development Corporation claims that bookings have gone up significantly and are expected to increase by over 25 per cent compared to the year gone by. Resorts are trying to come up with new products to lure the travellers and home stays are measuring up to them. Kerala is now bracing up to face the stiff competition emanating from its neighbouring states and even Sri Lanka which is aggressively promoting tourism after the fall of the LTTE.