The land of coconuts, God’s Own Country, was an untapped beauty in the southern tip of the subcontinent. Tourism in India then meant only the Golden Triangle of Agra-Jaipur-Delhi, or at best the Himalayas. Fifteen-years ago, Kerala woke up. The state, spearheaded by Kerala Tourism, decided to seduce the tourist with its natural beauty, grace and charm.
Now, Kerala attracts 5.8 million tourists, a large number of them foreigners. It generates an income of Rs. 49,310 million and attracts more than 50,000 visitors from the United Kingdom. French and Germans find it alluring. In the first half of 2003 (January - July) Kerala recorded a 27% increase in arrivals – arrivals from France shot up by 22.8%, from Germany by 18.61% and from the UK by 8.64%. The enchantment of Kerala ensured increasing tourist flow despite September 11 and the SARS threat. While India suffered a fall in tourist arrivals by 11.14% across 2000/02, Kerala achieved an impressive growth of 10.78% during the same period.
Kerala’s beauty has proved enticing to Western Europe. The message is spreading across Russia and CIS countries. Tourists from Singapore, Malaysia and UAE find the state an attractive destination. The state, thanks to the vigorous efforts of Kerala Tourism, has now emerged as one of the top travel destinations in the world.
Kerala is the preferred destination for celebrities – Paul McCartney and Heather Mills have been here. Paul summed up his experience – "Truly God’s own country". Heather was certain that they would visit again. The deluge of acclaim is overwhelming. National Geographic Traveler called it "One of the ten paradises of the world". Weekend FT – London, said that this is "Where the smart traveller goes". Travel and Leisure – UK,
classified it as "One of the hundred great trips of the 21st century". The New York Times said that this is "Where India flows at a relaxed pace". Time magazine was succinct, "Kerala is worth the trip".
Kerala was the first state in India to receive the status of Partner State of the World Travel and Tourism Council in 2000. Along with Hawaii and South Carolina, Kerala has joined the exclusive club of sub-national economies that have implemented Tourism Satellite Accounting (TSA). Kerala Travel and Tourism demand is expected to grow by 11.6% per annum over the coming decade. This is the highest expected growth rate in the world.
Kerala is not just the number one tourist destination in India, it is also the country’s most up-market tourist destination. The shift from mass tourism to quality tourism is one of the key achievements of Kerala Tourism. Realising that only a refined, mature audience can ensure the sustainability of this nature-dependent destination, the focus shifted about a decade ago to quality tourism. The aim was to dissuade the backpacker-hippie culture that invaded Kovalam in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Kerala Tourism added new destinations like Kumarakom and Munnar, launched innovative products like houseboats, tree houses and ayurvedic rejuvenation. It enticed up-market tourists through the tourism-trade in strong emerging markets abroad – London,
Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt and the Middle East. The rapid increase of excellent tourism infrastructure gave further impetus to this drive.
Kerala Tourism has won many international awards. To name just a few, the PATA (Pacific Association of Travel Agents) International award for marketing; the PATA Grand award for Heritage; and India Tourism’s award for the best performing State in India three times in a row.
Tourism in Kerala developed through government-led private enterprise. The early 1980s saw large numbers of Keralites going abroad to work. This exodus resulted in many travel agencies mushrooming all over the state. The emerging travel trade spotted the opportunity in in-bound tourism and thus started rolling the wheels of fortune. Successive governments, irrespective of ideology differences sensed the tremendous potential of tourism and went all out to promote the destination, attract investments and create the right environment for this industry to grow and flourish. Tourism secured industry status in 1986. Today, tourism has emerged as the most stable and best performing industry in the state, which generates over 1 million skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled job opportunities. The sector attracted an average of Rs. 5,000 million every year for the last five years.
Right from the start, Kerala made steady progress. A unique mix of inherent advantages, innovative products, a dynamic tourism-trade community and sustained government support have made Kerala the number one destination in India in a very short time.