Kerala: Plans to market Kochi Biennale globally; Australia, East Asia on the radar

Buoyed by the success of 3rd Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kerala tourism department has set its sight on diversifying its tourism products by focusing on adventure tourism, beside marketing Kerala as the “land of Biennale”. Also on the radar is highlighting state’s religious sites and destinations to further boost religious tourism in the coastal state, shared U V Jose, Director, Kerala Tourism Department.

u-v-joseKerala state tourism department is buoyed by the success of the third edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016. Traditionally a major traction among tourists heading to the southern state, the third edition has been a larger success, especially in taking the festival beyond the realm of art lovers to locals and visitors alike, said U V Jose.

Arguing that while on the management front, there was some confusion over the government’s role in organising the event in the first edition, issues have been ironed out.  It is to be noted that state government did provide all the necessary financial support right from the inception of the festival. “A sum of seven and a half crores has been earmarked for the event. Also, to ensure smooth coordination, the state government has formed a committee under the chairmanship of the district collector – which will look at plugging loopholes in ensuring smooth running of the festival. The state government would provide the infrastructural support. It will still be carried out by the trust with the government’s support,” he said.

Calling the festival an apt example of how to manage a public private partnership, he said that the festival has been seen as being run by the government and not a private trust – which illustrates the success of the PPP undertaking.

Kerala tourism has spearheaded marketing the festival as a major tourism product of the state, which is substantiated by the fact that the state tourism department has allocated a sum of six crores to create visibility around the Biennale in the national and international markets. “We are using the festival to promote Kerala as a land of Biennale,” he informed.

Taking stock of the recently announced demonetization and its consequential impact on tourism, domestic and international, the director said “we are having real problems as far as domestic tourism is concerned. We did a survey and it suggests that there was a 20-30% drop in numbers and similar quantum of cancellations.”

He also added that the worst hit from the decision were small-time hotel owners and houseboat operators who were not finding many takers.

“We expect this situation to continue, at least, for some time until the situation returns to normalcy,” he noted.

While the situation was a little better on the international tourism front, there were signs of distress, owing to reduced capacity to spend money by international tourists, revealed U V Jose. “The real issue is that we have been positioning tourism as a driver of the local economy, handicrafts and eateries. While cancellations have been in tune of  only 10-15%, international tourists are not having adequate cash on themselves to support local artisans or buy their produce, creating a lull in the local economy,” he shared.

“Kerala’s tourism is based on community development, but international tourists are just not mentally prepared to spend right now,” he added.

The state tourism has also stepped in on its efforts to further diversify the tourism profile of the state by working on developing products related to Christian heritage. The state tourism plans to develop and has mooted digital content on Christianity in the state, five short movies and a microsite with over 200 photos and 225 web pages. These movies would focus on different aspects of Christianity – which include mural paintings, pilgrim centres, cuisines, architecture and literature, among others. These short movies would be marketed through Youtube and state tourism website. The project is likely to cost the exchequer a sum of around 49 lakhs and is expected to be wrapped up by the end of March next year.

Commenting on the development, U V Jose shared “the project has been given to an agency. We understand that we need more products and destinations to market the state in the international and national arena, and it is an effort in that direction.” Adding that it would add more lustre to the cultural offerings of the state, he said “there are several religious properties and sites pertaining to different religions and it holds tremendous potential in attracting footfalls.”

Having tasted considerable success with the 3rd edition of Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the state tourism department has set its sight on 2017. U V Jose shared that the state’s foray was going to be based on the twin pegs of destinations and products and robust marketing to create more visibility. Detailing some of the likely steps in the offing, he said “on the marketing front, we understand that we are doing well and need to continue our focus on the essentials.”

Highlighting that the state tourism department was rolling out a project called ‘Green Carpet’, which aimed at assisting stakeholders develop basic amenities in and around tourist sites, he mentioned “we will help stakeholders develop basic necessities like toilets and waste management systems, adequate lighting, signages’ and other facilities to ensure that tourists have a holistic and trouble-free experience while their visit to Kerala.” “It is essentially a 10-point agenda that we wish to work on,” he added.

While Kerala’s success in positioning itself as the go-to destination for tourists seeking Ayurveda and backwaters has been exemplary, it now aims at adding more variety to its tourism bouquet, noted the director. “We have done extremely well in courting tourists as far as backwaters and Ayurveda are concerned, but now we would like to attract adventure seekers with the vast repository of flora and fauna in our midst,” U V Jose said.

He added that on the international tourism front, Spice Route project was an ambitious undertaking, and while it was a top priority for the state government, given the involvement of 31 countries, it was going to take some time before it could materialise. “We have taken the lead in this, understanding that we can position ourselves as a leader, and are working in close coordination with the ambassadors of 31 countries involved in this project, beside UNESCO,” he shared.

Also, the state tourism has set its sight on East Asian countries after a relentless campaign in Europe and the Americas in the past.

“We would be focusing on Australia this year, apart from some other East Asian countries,” he told us.

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