Theme-based circuits to attract more tourists

Theme-based circuits to attract more tourists

In an industry where global trends are swinging from the strictures of Googled-out destinations and things-to-do lists toward the idea of a packaged, wholesome experience, tourism administrators in Kerala are taking cue. The state’s Department of Tourism (DoT) is preparing a blueprint to link four popular, diverse destinations in south-central Kerala in an ambitious project funded by the Union Ministry of Tourism.

Pathanamthitta is a district which is home to the Sabarimala Ayyappa Temple and the Parthasarathy Temple in Aranmula. It is also a popular haunt for elephant watchers; the elephant training centre at Konni is located in the district. Gavi, a largely unexplored but rapidly rising destination in the district’s tour map, has also emerged as an important eco-tourism base. Vagamon and Thekkady, both located in Idukki district, have continued to be top draws with trekkers and nature lovers; Vagamon with its sprawling stretches of green is one of Kerala’s most popular hill stations while the Periyar forests in Thekkady is an extremely popular wild-life tourism spot. As stand-alone brochure entries, the four destinations evoke unique possibilities. The idea is to bring the possibilities together in an integrated 150-km- long circuit with one theme which links it all – eco-tourism.

The Centre’s nod for the Rs 95-crore project – touted as the first of its kind in Kerala – was announced in early November. The integrated Mega Tourism Circuit (MTC) is set to be developed under Swadesh Darshan, a scheme of the Union Ministry of Tourism for integrated development of theme-based circuits. The ministry has already identified a Himalayan circuit, Buddha circuit and coastal circuit under the scheme. Kerala’s Minister for Tourism A P Anilkumar feels that the Pathanamthitta-Gavi-Vagamon-Thekkady circuit, while tapping on the region’s potential in eco-tourism, will also lead to creation of tourism infrastructure that matches global standards, creation of jobs and better living standards for the local communities.

G Kamala Vardhana Rao, Tourism Secretary, says the Department is looking at a “maximum of two years” to complete the proposed circuit. “We are taking the project up in a phased manner. Next in line is detailed discussions on the project’s possibilities with collectors of Pathanamthitta and Idukki districts,” says Rao. The state DoT had submitted to the Centre a Rs 200-crore proposal for the circuit. On the sanctioned budget, the department will spend Rs 30 crore on Pathanamthitta and Gavi and Rs 65 crore on Vagamon and Thekkady.

Pathanamthitta, a district steeped in heritage and an important pilgrim tourism base in the state, has not quite made an impression with its tourist numbers; according to DoT statistics, it figures at the bottom of the list of Kerala’s 14 districts in terms of domestic and foreign tourist footfalls recorded in 2014. The rise of Gavi and new initiatives that include coracle rafting in Adavi could spell the big change for the district’s tourism possibilities. The MTC also comes with potential for bigger numbers in the district. Development of tourism infrastructure coupled with the arrivals from more popular destinations featured in the circuit could be the key when the project takes shape.

The Gavi Eco-tourism Project which also involves local communities is likely to double as an example to build the new circuit on. Rao also points out that Gavi has generated a lot of interest over the past couple of years. The destination gained in popularity after Alistair International listed it as a leading eco-tourism centre. The interest was also triggered by Ordinary, a 2012 blockbuster Malayalam movie shot in and around the region. The circuit, being one of the first projects being developed under the Swadesh Darshan scheme, comes with its share of challenges. The Tourism Ministry’s guidelines for Swadesh Darshan state – “The theme-based circuits should be developed in a manner that caters to both mass and niche tourism in a holistic manner”.

The key will be in marketing the overall experience from the new circuit without losing tourists with specific interests heading for niche destinations, says K Mohanraj, an avid traveller. “The idea of circuit-driven tourism has always been there but in a more informal manner. It helps when the state government itself sets out to develop such circuits because it helps in improving the standards of infrastructure. But what really matters is an assurance to enhance the tourist’s experience without intervening in nature,” he says.

The proposed circuit comes with new features that include trekking, archery and rock-climbing facilities. The 150-km circuit will be developed from Angamoozhy in Pathanamthitta district to Vagamon. The Department is planning development of destinations in Angamoozhy, Moozhiyar, Kochupampa, Kaki and Gavi in the Pathanamthitta-Gavi region. The proposal covers a cafeteria, apart from new rest and activity areas. A boating surveillance camera, eco-friendly accommodation and adventure sport activities are also being planned.

The Vagamon-Thekkady region will have adventure tourism as a key feature – a six-km nature trail, rope walks, buggy walks, shooting arena, archery arena, trampolines, rock-climbing, multiline walks, cycle tracks, curio shops and an amphitheatre will be developed as part of the proposal. The DoT is also working on plans for a new cultural centre in Kadammanitta and eco-lodging facilities in Peerumedu.


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