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Kerala's Tourism Minister looks ahead after a year of global accolades

IANS | December 30, 2022 04:48 PM

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: For Kerala Tourism, 2022 has been a year of remarkable achievements and inspiring global and national honours as tourism in the state made a spectacular comeback during the year after being battered by back-to-back floods and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Our new products like caravan tourism -- Keravan Kerala -- and the upfront initiatives to integrate the entire state into an all-season destination of diverse attractions have been well received by tourists.

Sustainability and inclusiveness have been the underpinning of our tourism development model while living up to the expectations and demands of the new age travellers.

Economic empowerment of the local community has been incorporated as a vital component of tourism even as the government further strengthened the win-win partnership with the travel and hospitality industry.

The year saw TIME Magazine mentioning Kerala as one of the '50 Extraordinary Destinations to Explore in 2022'.

Before that Conde Nast Traveller recognised Kerala's Aymanam village as one among 30 best places to visit in 2022, while in March, Kerala was chosen by Travel & Leisure magazine for the Global Vision Award.

In November, the STREET project, a part of the state's storied Responsible Tourism initiative, bagged the global award at World Travel Market (WTM), London.

The year was capped with India Today ranking Kerala as the topmost performer in tourism in the 'big states' category. The state was also voted as the Best Wedding Destination by readers of Travel Plus Leisure.

During the year, Kerala made a deep impression at major tourism and travel fairs in India and abroad like BIT Milan, IMTM Tel Aviv, ATM Dubai and WTM London.

Now, let us have a brief look at statistics, as figures tell in clear-cut terms what has been achieved and what more needs to be done to scale new heights.

Kerala set an all-time record in domestic tourist footfalls this year. The state hosted 1.33 crore tourists in the first three quarters of the year. Significantly, this marked an increase of 1.94 per cent from the pre-pandemic year.

It is obvious that Kerala is the most preferred destination for the lockdown-weary holidaymakers from around the country. We are expecting to get the figures of the fourth quarter in a few days, which will raise the graph further.

Targeted campaigns mounted by the state Tourism Department in major cities have paid off. The outlook for the future is brighter.

Kerala has always been a much sought-after destination for domestic as well as foreign tourists. Over the decades, our prime focus has been on established locations. These include core assets like beaches, backwaters and hill-stations, with a smattering of cultural and heritage spicing up packages.

But now is the time to explore more untapped areas awaiting to be revealed before the world. It is with this futuristic vision that we launched a major project to 'explore the unexplored destinations' in partnership with local self- government institutions.

Our aim is to identify and develop at least one destination each in over 1, 000 village panchayats in the length and breadth of Kerala.

Though the Tourism Department will provide technical and financial support to local bodies, this is essentially a grassroots level initiative.

Kerala also made a trail-blazing initiative by becoming the first state to launch woman-friendly tourism packages. This offers all-woman packages operated by women themselves. The first set of packages has been announced, linking most prime locations and more are in the offing.

The year was packed with hectic activities across Kerala. The Onam celebrations organised by the Tourism Department in the state capital and other towns across the state were a big hit. The government plans to market this event globally.

The second edition of the IPL-model Champions Boat League (CBL) snake-boat races received greater domestic and global attention. The Kochi Muziris Biennale is back in full swing after the pandemic-induced interlude. Beypore International Water Fest is now underway in north Kerala in a bigger format, after its first edition made a huge impact.

Heritage tourism has been strengthened by phased development of projects like Travancore Heritage Tourism Project. During the year, we also strengthened adventure tourism, MICE sector and farm tourism besides launching the literary and biodiversity circuits.

Kerala also made further advances in leveraging digital technology for bringing to the fingertip of visitors a wide range of tourism-related information and services.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan recently said that the state's robust startup ecosystem will be linked to the tourism sector.

Tourism is a key segment of Kerala's economy, contributing substantially to the State Domestic Product. It is vitally important to ensure participation of the youth to maintain the momentum. It is in view of this that we launched a project to form tourism clubs in college campuses.

(P.A. Mohamed Riyas is Kerala's Minister for Tourism and Public Works and also the son-in-law of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan)

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