Over the past two decades, Kerala has solidified its position as a tourism superpower, earning over 60 accolades, which has also labeled it a destination not to be missed in a lifetime.
With an impressive growth rate of 19.34 per cent and a record number of 159.69 lakh visitors from within the country during January-September 2023, Kerala Tourism‘s initiatives have cemented the state’s reputation as a safe, hospitable, and all-weather holiday paradise.
Now, their revamped strategy focuses on introducing new destinations, creating innovative tourism circuits, notching up efforts for heli-tourism and adventure in the states, investing in infrastructure, cruise tourism, and expanding the Responsible Tourism (RT) initiative, said Kerala Tourism Director, P B Nooh.
New destinations, circuits & development projects on the anvil:
Examining last year’s statistics until September, domestic tourist arrivals in Kerala reached 15.9 million, with an all-time high of 18.8 million visitors recorded in 2022. Despite this peak, the state is yet to surpass pre-pandemic numbers. Nooh affirmed that 2022 marked the best year for Kerala’s domestic tourism, expressing optimism about reaching pre-pandemic tourist figures this year.
To address the challenges posed by the surge in both domestic and international tourism, particularly in managing crowds at traditional hotspots, the state government has introduced the destination challenge. Nooh explained that this initiative aims to develop a new destination in every gram panchayat, focusing on the creation of small village destinations. “With 1000 gram panchayats available, the objective is to redirect domestic tourists away from major destinations, ensuring sustainable tourism growth.”
“Kovalam, an established destination for the past 20-25 years, is undergoing a significant transformation with an investment of around 93 crores. Looking ahead, the spotlight is on the most significant destinations in development—Varkala and Vagamon. These projects are undergoing a massive revamp and have received funding under both central and state government schemes,” Nooh told ETTravelWorld.
Also, noteworthy investments have been made, particularly along the state’s 580-kilometer coastline. Muzhappilangad beach, with an investment of approximately INR 230 crore, stands as a testament to this dedication, shared Nooh.
“Varkala beach, too, has garnered attention from investors, with other islands being developed through a collaboration of private industry and government support,” he shared, adding that Backwaters, housing a one third of Kerala’s population, remain a unique strength and experience for tourism.
Further, the department plans to develop thematic tourist circuits. “Literary circuits, covering the trail of renowned Kerala-based authors and locales associated with their literary works as well as a biodiversity circuit connecting some major destinations, are being actively planned for this year,” informed Nooh.
Speaking in general about the economic impact of the tourism sector for Kerala, Nooh termed it as substantial, adding that the direct earnings from domestic tourists in 2022 amounted to INR 24,588.96 crore. The tourism sector’s contribution to Kerala’s GDP reached 10 per cent, generating around 15 lakhs jobs, both directly and indirectly, he pointed out.
Setting the stage for heli, adventure & wedding tourism
In a bold move to elevate Kerala’s tourism experience and as part of its aggressive campaign to increase the domestic tourist footfalls, Nooh also announced the ‘Sky Escapes’ heli-tourism project yesterday. Branded as a potential game-changer akin to the impact of houseboats three decades ago, this initiative aims to connect the state’s top destinations through a comprehensive heli-tourism policy.
“Kerala has become the first state in the country to come out with a comprehensive heli-tourism policy. A micro-site has been created giving details of travel packages offered by the helicopter service providers,” stated Nooh.
This initiative, in line with Kerala Tourism’s campaign — Make up for lost time, pack up for Kerala, will be of enormous help to tourists planning to visit various destinations in a single trip, making the state an inter-connected tourism hotspot, remarked Nooh.
This initiative he said will revolutionise the way tourists experience Kerala, provide an efficient and seamless travel experience, while offering a unique aerial perspective of diverse landscapes and cultural sites. This will include city rides for short trips and destination-to-destination rides, said Nooh.
The government’s commitment to placing Kerala on the global adventure tourism map also takes center stage this year with the recent announcement of four international adventure sporting events. These include International Paragliding Festival at Vagamon in Idukki from March 14 to 17, International Surfing Festival at Varkala from March 29 to 31, mega mountain biking event, MTB Kerala 2024, to be held at Priyadarshini tea plantation in Mananthavady, Wayanad, from April 26 to 28 and The Malabar River Festival 2024 will be held at Kodencherry in Kozhikode from July 25 to 28.
Recognising the anticipated 20 per cent global growth in adventure tourism by 2032, these events are poised to showcase Kerala’s diverse geography, featuring mountains, rivers, beaches, and canals, added Nooh.
In addition to its captivating natural beauty and scenic locales, Kerala Tourism is also planning to position the state as an ideal wedding destination. The department officials say that Kerala’s serene backwaters, bordered by swaying palm trees, pristine beaches, and mystical hill stations adorned with expansive tea and spice plantations, establish a perfect ambiance for couples to tie the knot or head for a honeymoon.
Nooh, during his presentation, also emphasised the growing trend of hosting destination weddings across the state. Recognizing the substantial appeal, the government is dedicated to fostering a conducive environment for destination weddings. “The objective is to attract couples from across the globe, thereby not only enhancing the tourism landscape but also contributing to the growth of local economies,” he added.
Cruise Tourism: A new horizon
While speaking to ETTravelWorld on the sidelines of a partnership meet, director Nooh hinted at the upcoming developments in cruise tourism. “Eight ports are in the pipeline as part of the cruise tourism initiative, with Beypore set to debut as one of these ports this year. This strategic move seeks to diversify Kerala’s tourism offerings and capture new segments of the market,” he added.
In one of recent statements, Kerala state government had revealed plans to inaugurate cruise ship services from Beypore in this year, with the increased funds earmarked for port dredging. The allocated funds will be utilized to enhance the river’s depth at the port, with the objective of commencing cruise ship journeys from Beypore before the next edition of the Beypore International Water Fest (BIWF).
Finance Minister Balagopal highlighted the initial launch of domestic cruise ships with a capacity of 300 to 500 passengers. This move is anticipated to play a pivotal role in boosting tourism within the state, drawing larger crowds to the annual BIWF event.
Championing responsible travel
“In recent years, Kerala has emerged as a key responsible tourism destination. This also means that we have consistently ensured that visitors become responsible travellers, while also contributing to the betterment of local communities,” Nooh reiterated, adding that wellness, and responsible tourism will be taken forward with a greater sense of purpose and vigour in 2024.
Besides this, the state government is actively involved in the caravan park initiative, with three parks already under construction. “Simultaneously, the private sector is contributing to this endeavor, currently progressing with the construction of more caravan parks. This collaborative effort aims to enhance tourism infrastructure and cater to the evolving needs of travellers, while ensuring a responsible way of travelling,” he stated.
He said the revamped strategy of Kerala Tourism hinges on creating new destinations and capacity building projects, while broadening the award-winning Responsible Tourism (RT) Mission, which allows tourists to experience village life and ensures better connectivity.
Providing insights into the current statistics, Nooh revealed that there are 23,784 registered units statewide, with over 46,000 individuals directly benefiting and approximately 83,964 enjoying indirect benefits. Notably, a significant 73 percent of these units are owned or led by women.
Additionally, as part of the Responsible Tourism (RT) initiative, a diverse range of 140 experiential tour packages has been introduced across various locations in Kerala. Impressively, these packages involve direct participation from about 850 families in their curation, further enhancing the local engagement and impact of the initiative.