The three-month-long Kochi-Muziris Biennale that opens Dec 12 with an art and music gala will be playing to packed houses in this ancient Kerala city's tourism industry that is currently stagnating.
Kochi (formerly Cochin), dating back to Biblical times, is booked for 12/12/12 -- a day that many god-fearing residents await with bated breath. The biennale will exhibit artwork and create site-specific installations in Fort Kochi, Mattancherry, Kochi city and Muziris town, the site of an early secular port that was washed away by a deluge around 13 AD.
The non-profit event will use heritage buildings and disused structures in the old quarters of Kochi and Muziris as exhibition venues to regenerate the region's history and open its culture to the world.
The tourism industry is thus pinning its hopes on the biennale to breathe new blood in the city's stagnating tourism economy. The inflow of domestic and foreign visitors here has not seen any increase despite investment and growth in the shipping trade. The bulk of tourists here are business travellers who come for short stays.
But projections by the Kochi-Muziris Biennale Foundation says the event is likely to draw nearly 800,000 tourists to Kochi in the coming months. The figure is huge given that 10 million tourists, both Indian and foreign, visited Kerala last year, according to official data.
The Kochi-Muziris Biennale Foundation says Liverpool, which was designated the European Capital of Culture in 2008, pulled 800 million pounds into the city's economy. The Sydney Biennale the same year earned the city nearly 53 million Australian dollars.
Kochi's hospitality industry is looking at a spurt in footfall of alert independent travellers who will seek engagement with culture beyond customised itineraries.
"We have not been packaging our art and culture well. Unlike many smaller countries, we have a culture that is millennia old.
"But young people in our country don't engage with art and culture because it is not attractively presented. They would rather go and engage with cricket and Bollywood. The mindset can change when culture is served as entertainment," V. Sunil, executive creative director of British advertising agency Weiden & Kennedy, told IANS.
"In five years, many more countries will use cultural resources for tourism. Kochi can become a biennale city like Venice with collateral events for two years to sustain itself," Sunil said.
He said the biennale had opened a winter cultural tourism circuit in India, with the biennale in December, Jaipur Literature Festival in January and India Art Fair in February.
Jose Dominic, a leading hotelier who manages properties such as Casino Hotel and Brunton Boatyard in Kochi, said the currency the biennale had gathered in Europe in the last one year would translate into business.
"I was at the World Travel Mart and the biennale was on the agenda. The event has been widely talked about in international media," Dominic told IANS.
If the event is successful, it could "put Kerala on the tourism map at par with Rajasthan".
Edgar Pinto, who owns Old Harbour Hotel, an upscale heritage beachfront property, and an art gallery in Fort Kochi, said "Kochi is fully booked for 12/12/12".
"In two years, Kochi will have 500 more rooms with chains like Crowne Plaza and the Marriott building new properties," Pinto told IANS.