Kerala delves into tradition to woo high-paying tourists

Monday, 31 March 2003, 08:00 Hrs
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NEW DELHI: The Western fascination for Kerala's tradition -- be it culture, martial arts, cuisine or ayurveda -- has made tourism authorities delve into the state's rich lifestyle of yore to woo high-paying visitors.

Authenticity is going to be the buzzword, especially in food, with chefs in five-star hotels and resorts preparing the spicy Kottayam Syrian fish curry made in earthen pots, the steamed 'puttu' made of powered parboiled rice, and an array of meat and vegetable dishes cooked in different styles across the state.

"Grandmothers known for their cooking skills are being approached by top hotel groups to part with their special recipes for curries prepared in the traditional way," Kerala Tourism Minister K.V. Thomas told IANS here.

Thomas has just returned after a fortnight-long visit to Europe to hold tourism roadshows along with industry representatives in Madrid, Milan and Rome.

Kerala was also a participant at the International Tourism Bourse (ITB) Berlin travel show from March 6 to 12.

"We realise that Kerala cannot compete with destinations like Goa as a beach resort, so we are focusing only on high-end foreign tourists with the promise of a rejuvenating ayurveda treatment and not just massages," Thomas said.

"We have started categorising ayurveda centres as green leaf and olive leaf on the basis of an expert committee's recommendation based on facilities."

While ayurveda treatment is available in several countries, Kerala is focusing on a complete lifestyle package that takes advantage of its verdant landscape, climate and environment. The package involves a change in lifestyle and diet.

Adding to the charm will be traditional dances, which are being learnt by foreign students. Many of the students have opened their dance schools overseas.

"It was indeed a delight to witness Indians performing Mohiniyattam (the dance of the enchantress) in Italy. They had learnt the dance from some of the foreign students. We also found a great interest in Europe to learn Kalaripayattu (martial arts) and Kathakali (dance enactment of legends)," said Thomas.

Kerala's tourism plans include more investment in infrastructure, special tourism zones, conservation of heritage sites like Fort Kochi, interlinking of canals with backwaters, and an eco-tourism resort that is being developed in Pathanamthitta district with restrictive entry for only high-paying tourists.

"For other tourists, including domestic, the surrounding areas outside the resort will be developed with all facilities," said Thomas.

The Kerala government estimates that last year about 5 billion were invested in tourism, which saw good growth in variance with the trend in other parts of India. The state recorded 11.37 percent growth in foreign tourist arrivals.

Last year 223,000 foreign tourists and 566,800 domestic visitors went to Kerala.

Tourism revenue accounts for 6.29 percent of the state's gross domestic product. It generates employment for approximately 700,000 people in Kerala.

Kerala is also looking to draw domestic tourists, primarily pilgrims.

The Kerala Tourism Development Corporation has joined hands with Indian Railways to have a special bogie attached to Netravati Express from Mumbai every week on Friday. This will bring tourists for a seven-day pilgrimage, sightseeing and ayurveda package that includes boarding.

"Considering the good response this package is drawing, we are planning to extend this service from Allahabad, Pune and New Delhi and are currently holding discussions with the railways," said Thomas.

The state now has a special tourism police wing and its taxi drivers are being trained to be courteous to visitors. Some of them are being sent to places like Singapore for lessons.

Source: IANS
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