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The message: Kerala is now ready to receive you

Kerala must project itself as a resilient state, purposefully rebuilding itself, would make for a better case for attracting funding and assistance rather than a floundering one.

analysis Updated: Sep 09, 2018 23:59 IST
Tourism, the most significant economic activity of the state, accounts for more than 10% of Kerala’s Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) at Rs 33,383 crore and 23.5% of its total employment (Raj K Raj/Hindustan Times)

Kerala tourism is one of India’s biggest success stories. The calamitous floods that Kerala had to face are certainly a huge setback to its tourism sector, but adversity also spawns an opportunity for us to press the reset button: to rethink, innovate, change and emerge stronger.

Tourism, the most significant economic activity of the state, accounts for more than 10% of its Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) at Rs 33,383 crore and 23.5% of its total employment. Along with the pressing need of rehabilitating its population, Kerala needs to revive its vital economic activities in order to kick-start the economy. A strong rebound from Kerala Tourism as the most significant sector of the state’s economy will have an exaggerated positive impact on the revival of other sectors.

In order to achieve a quick bounce back, work has to centre on the three pillars of infrastructure, public perception and marketing.

On the infrastructure front, it is essential to quickly restore key utilities such as road connectivity, power and water for tourism establishments. The government should hand-hold the industry in ensuring timely settlement of insurance claims and accessing loans from banks for refurbishment as well as working capital needs. The entrepreneurs should also utilise the opportunity to rethink and improve the product in line with changing consumer expectations. It also allows the state and the industry to recalibrate themselves to closely align with the objectives of environmental and community commitments, including job creation.

Tourism is in many ways akin to showbiz and the success or otherwise of destinations depends upon the way public perception is managed. An image of a weak, helpless state wallowing in sorrow and waiting for succour will be counterproductive. Instead, it should project an image of a strong Kerala on the rebound and emphasise upon the gains made. Indeed, a resilient state, purposefully rebuilding itself, would make for a better case for attracting funding and assistance rather than a floundering one.

A catalysing marketing strategy is essential to ensure that the season is not entirely lost and send out a strong message that Kerala tourism is back in business. The government and the industry must announce an early date for a “Kerala is Ready to Receive You” day. A creative campaign showcasing the state’s important destinations after rebuilding and inviting visitors should be amplified across media platforms, especially digital and social media. We should invite key opinion makers, journalists and bloggers who could be dispersed across all important destinations coinciding with the “Kerala is Ready to Receive You” day to give the world a real time picture of the state and convince them to start travelling. Familiarisation trips should be hosted in tandem for important business partners to showcase the rebooted product and get the business engagement going. The central government can significantly help in these endeavours.

In the immediate season, Kerala should moderate prices and offer incentives to business partners for attracting tourists without compromising upon the value proposition or its perception as a premium destination.

The government of India allows employees to convert their home town leave travel concession (LTC) to visit Jammu & Kashmir and states in the Northeast. Kerala could be included alongside them for a limited time to boost immediate domestic demand.

A strong rebound from the tourism sector will trigger a positive perception of Kerala in attracting the much-needed investments, instil a sense of self-belief in its people and amplify its soft power. The government should take an entrepreneurial position to get the tourism sector back on rails paving the way for a similar approach to several other sectors in the future.

Adversity strikes unannounced and those who show the gumption to turn it into a stepping stone for success will lead the world. Kerala Tourism needs to lead from the front to prove it and become a model for the rest of the world.

Suman Billa is joint secretary, ministry of tourism, and former secretary, Kerala Tourism

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Sep 09, 2018 20:01 IST