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Monday, 22 September, 2008, 10 : 00 AM [IST]

Kerala Tourism : Creating an Environment of Opportunities

‘If you can dream it, you can do it,’ a saying by Walt Disney best describes the opportunities created and marketed by Kerala Tourism in order to promote the destination. From identifying opportunities, creating brand awareness and promoting Kerala as a stand alone destination to finding new niche segments, Krupa Vora reports on the various ideas adopted and implemented by Kerala Tourism
In 1980s, Kerala was faced with the need to find a solution to the growing unemployment, amidst industrial stagnation and drift. At that point, the options were very limited. One thing that Kerala had in abundance was naturally scenic locations that could be turned into tourist attractions. The government identified tourism as a thrust area and developed an initial plan for comprehensive development. This identification and plan triggered off a quiet revolution that is today Kerala’s most significant economic activity and employer. Kerala Tourism’s marketing strategy has been carried out in a phased manner over the years.

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Identifying opportunities
The first important thing for Kerala Tourism was opportunity identification and positioning of the destination. This was the first marketing strategy adopted by Kerala Tourism. In the 1980’s, there were just a couple of competent hotels each in Cochin (now Kochi), Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram), whereas places like Munnar, Kumarakom, Wayanad were undiscovered. Also, there were not many tour companies, professionals were unavailable, connectivity was poor and roads were in bad shape. “Despite a few roadblocks, the government was very positive that tourism could make a great future for the state with the right inputs and resources. To work on this, Kerala formulated a tourism development plan and followed it methodically,” explained Dr Venu V, Secretary, Kerala Tourism. Kerala Tourism positioned itself as  ‘God’s Own Country,’ with a media campaign, targeting opinion-leaders/shapers and the tourism trade. The campaign caught the eyes of travellers and within a year the destination was a hit among domestic and global market.

Creating brand awareness
In the early 1990s Kerala Tourism moved away from conventional marketing and conceptualised a specific marketing in order to promote the tourism offerings of the state. The positioning of the destination generated lot of interest among the travel trade, however, it now felt the need to bring about different aspects of the destination to the travel trade and end consumers. Three tourism related festivals were launched titled ‘The Great Elephant March’, ‘The Great Kerala Boat Races’ and ‘The Grand Onam Festival’. The Great Elephant March was a package of programmes spread across a week, whereas The Great Kerala Boat Race recreated the magic of the traditional snake boat race for the end consumers. During the same period, other festivals were launched concentrating on dance and folk culture of the state. These festivals were promoted through nationwide advertising and Government of India Tourist Offices abroad. “The festivals that were launched during that period gave boost to the destination in the eyes of the media and also the trade,” stated Venu. The tag line ‘God’s Own Country’ was also launched during the same time.

To avoid visitors facing bad experiences with interfacing public such as taxi-drivers, hotel staff etc., a mass media tourism campaign was launched on the theme ‘Your smile could be a winner’ to sensitise all the sections of the tourism industry in Kerala. Concurrently, to develop infrastructure in the state, an investment campaign was launched to attract new investments into the tourism sector. Kovalam also witnessed a considerable amount of charter inflow, which brought the need to market the destination internationally.

Stand-alone destination and marketing
Around 1994, Kerala Tourism recognised that sustainable marketing was the key to promote the destination but ongoing presence in international market was also vital. The aggressive branding in domestic and international market had worked wonders and Kerala Tourism strategically decided to promote ‘God’s Own Country’ as a stand-alone destination. With this decision, Kerala Tourism started independent exhibition stands – both within India and internationally at trade fairs, road-shows. Along with efforts to promote the state as a stand-alone destination, Kerala Tourism adopted a multi-sectoral strategy and also focussed on infrastructure development and upgradation of facilities including two new airports in Kochi and Kozhikode, approach roads to tourists destinations and also public amenities.
 
To innovate with the product offerings, the tourism department identified new destinations and developed circuits like Kumarakom, Munnar, Wayanad and other destinations like Kovalam and Thekkady were added to the Kerala portfolio. The addition of these destinations brought central Kerala into the limelight as the hub of tourism activities. It also introduced a niche and unique segments like Backwaters and Ayurveda. With a focussed approach, these two segments became popular internationally and the average duration of stay in Kerala went up from 4.4 days to 14 days. The hike in average duration of stay disclosed the potential of Kerala. “Tourism had started to pick up, foreign tour operators started including Kerala in their holiday programmes and catalogues, destination management companies came into existence and also investments started flowing in,” stated Venu. To further understand the destination, Kerala Tourism conducted ‘Carrying Capacity Studies and Environment Impact Assessments’ to ascertain the long term sustainability of the destination.

0117_ms_2.jpgBoutique destination, new niche
Based on the findings of the Carrying Capacity and Environment Impact studies, the tourism department took a paradigm shift to position the state as an upscale tourist destination. The focus changed to value tourism as against volume based tourism. A comprehensive blue print was created for the promotion and marketing of the destination. “We identified clusters of markets to be targeted for upscale tourists in three regions mainly Western Europe, Gulf regions and India,” informed Venu. In Europe, markets identified were UK, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, Spain and in Gulf the markets were UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar. Among Indian cities, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Surat, Pune, Vizag and Coimbatore were identified. Kerala Tourism continued to conduct road shows and marketing campaigns along with FAM trips for tour operators. During the same period, Kerala Tourism initiated Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) model that acted as a critical force in implementing new initiatives including joint promotions at international trade fairs, road shows etc.

Kerala Tourism launched another niche product – ‘Ayurveda Sanctuary’ targeting the growing wellness tourism market internationally. The Ayurveda Sanctuary was also promoted to bring in more traffic during the off tourist season i.e. the monsoons. Under the PPP model, Kerala Tourism launched the first edition of Kerala Travel Mart, a pure buyer-seller meet.

The way ahead
Kerala Tourism, in order to promote the Ecotourism in the state, launched  ‘Evergreen Kerala’ with workshops and awareness programmes. Along side, it also formulated an Ecotourism Certification Programme for tourism service providers. Keeping in mind the newer mediums of promotion like television and Internet, Kerala Tourism promoted the destination with electronic and internet advertisement. “Lot of emphasis was laid on creating brochures and CDs which attract end consumers. It also launched a nationwide toll info line number to address the needs of the travellers,” said Venu.

Over the years, the tourism department has also launched the Dream Season with an objective to make Kerala a 365-day destination. The Dream Season was targeted at the domestic travellers with discounted prices to increase the traffic influx during the lean season. It also started promoting the destination as a short weekend gateway for cities closer to the state. “We will develop the domestic market as we assume a slowdown in the inbound tourist influx due to fuel prices being high and also recession in Europe,” informed Venu. Special emphasis will also be laid on aggressively focussing and developing the North Kerala region for tourists. So far, tourism activities have been always conducted in the Central and Southern part of Kerala.

Kerala Tourism in the coming years will tap newer markets like Australia, Russia and Scandinavian regions. Apart from concentrating on newer markets, it is focussing on developing Responsible Tourism in the state. The first step towards Responsible Tourism was the conference held in Kochi early this year. “Places like Kovalam, Kumarakom, Thekkady and Wayanad have already implemented Responsible Tourism practices. We want to maintain the quality rather than increasing the number of destinations which have Responsible Tourism. We will expand our destinations for Responsible Tourism, but in a phased manner,” disclosed Venu.  Kerala Tourism will also develop the concept of homestays, as an alternate medium of accommodation and also to promote experiential holidays by staying with locals. It has also launched a classification scheme for homestays in order to ensure the quality of accommodation. The classification scheme outlines certain mandatory guidelines, based upon which homestays will be approved and categorised into Diamond, Gold and Silver houses. “We will continue to create an environment of opportunities in the coming years to promote Kerala as a sought after destination,” concluded Venu.
 
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