The Kerala Model: Tourism and the State’s Economy

Kerala’s tourism has been essentially a rural tourism story! Not city based but experiential built by individuals! It is a celebration of the state’s culture and traditions! How has this played out? Over the years and where does this stand today? Today, there are modern day drivers like mice, weddings, sports, special events, how much of this has caught on with the state’s tourism drivers?  Has there been any noticeable negative effect of tourism in the state? Every destination has to keen reinventing it to remain relevant! Is this happening in Kerala? Has the PPP model in tourism Kerala kind of waned off. Is the private sector more complacent and the government is more on its own? These and more are some of the questions we had for Jose Dominic, senior member of the Dominic family, who run the most impressive and successful hotels in the state, under the brand of CGH Earth.

Where is the real genesis for the present tourism industry in your state?

Though a late starter in Tourism Kerala emerged as a front performing state in particular as a thought leader. To attract investment most states laid the red carpet. Kerala on the other hand played the hand it is used to by showing the Red Flag. Thus, scaring away FDI.

What in essence is the Kerala model in tourism?

Also, it must be acknowledged that highest priority given to investment that contributed to the state achieving the highest HDI rank in the subcontinent. Thus, also creating a destination for the modern evolved traveller. Sensing the opportunity local entrepreneurs did what they could which was small and in a manner they knew which was local. To their genius making indigenous and small World Class. This in essence is the Kerala model. Democratised entrepreneurship. Made the destination unique relying on its own cultural features. Conceived in Kerala Designed for Kerala. Offering the local to the foreign and national tourist.

How did you go about this invention, at least in terms of choosing the model, and your potential tourists, especially from overseas?

With its own unique Geopolitical circumstances in the first instance created the platform for a traveller using a word coined by a tourism researcher Dr Peter Aderhold professor in Denmark later after retirement founded the Aderhold Institute of Tourism Research. He described two types of travellers and coined words for them. One the Sun Sand Surf Traveller (SSS) and the other Alert Independent Traveller (AIT).

Who are these? And, where did you fit into their requirements?

SSS: they seek 27degree Celsius water, white sand, the best hotel, best room with a view. all in that line. Nothing else mattered. Certain of what they want. Must have it regardless. They will buy a seat and go where the seat goes.

AIT: for whom it was a voyage of discovery. Travel is an adventure. An exploration into new Worlds. Also, it mattered to him the life of local communities – their life, human rights, democracy. Impact of his travel on them.

And, between the two, as these were at variance with each other?

Clearly two markedly different types. Aderhold research also found that 90 percent of the market was SSS while only 10 percent was AIT. But also found was that SSS was sunset while AIT was sunrise. Destinations like India were more attractive to AIT and more capable of satisfying the AIT.

It followed naturally therefore that despite AIT being in minority, it fitted better into the aspirations and capabilities of destinations like India, Kerala and enterprises like CGH Earth.

Unlike the SSS who bought a seat and went wherever the seat went, the AIT wanted to be in fully in command. The internet and later the social media were the tools that belies him.

So, this was a new model, unlike what was being pursued in other successful destinations in India, like in the North, for instance?

Kerala’s strength is in its evolved feature. It reflects the strength of modern India and not dependent on ancient stories long gone of turbaned maharajas in palaces. Kerala now stands poised in leadership position in what is referred to as Responsible Tourism, drawing its strength from the local in concept, practice and ownership.

And going into the future? Where does this model go forward?

Travel is very personal. Travel to rejuvenate body, mind and spirit. Lifting the bar. The is the future of travel. This is the Kerala model. And therefore, poised in an extraordinary advantaged position. MICE, special events, weddings et al will flow from that.

And, for the state as a whole? Where does tourism fit into the economy?

Tourism has been identified as a change maker in the state through surging entrepreneurship. Harnessing the local. Creating jobs and livelihoods in the town as well as in the far away villages. A model of tourism that is futuristic. Putting the interest of planet and local communities on equal parity with the visitor. In short, able to attract the evolved traveller who finds luxury where the consumer interest does not overwhelm the interest of the environment and people.

So, this would be experiential that is new age luxury?

The model of tourism that has emerged in Kerala is the result of its originating source. Local entrepreneurs; who could create world class experiences from what is both small and local.

This model which put interests of the environment and community on equal parity with that of the consumer and enterprise has helped to take away or very much minimise the negative impacts very often tourism brings in its wake.

How has the industry been supported by the state government? Is there a PPP in works?

The PPP model in Kerala, yes! The government has actively supported the local entrepreneur by promoting the destination. It is this partnership that could lead to taking the pioneering step of branding the destination, as ‘Gods own Country ‘. This has served exceedingly well both on the supply side and the demand side.

And, the industry too has come forward? In what manner and means?

This is most marked in marketing of the destination, with the creation of the Kerala Travel Mart which emerged as India’s most significant travel marketing event; a direct result of the PPP in action. KTM started in year 2000 when Amitabh Kant was Tourism Secretary of Kerala and Dr Venu, the present chief secretary of the state, was its director.

What was your role, and how did it work?

As a local entrepreneur in the private sector, I came to be the President of KTM. The first mart in year 2000 brought buyers from around the world and the nation on a scale never before seen. For an entrant into the tourism sector, it obviated the need to go to ITB or WTM and the huge costs that those required.

What has been the downside for tourism in the state? Surely, there would be some snags you have experienced on the way?

Through successive governments, whatever the colour of the flag, they have kept the Kerala model on course. Though, some barriers linger. One for example is the excise regulations.

It was under the chief minister ship of Sri AK Antony that brought a ban on Arrack. Today, though the current government is enjoying an unprecedented run in Kerala for a second term they are unable to get out of the clutches of the Antony diktat.

Instead of Arrack or IMIL (Indian made Indian liquor) made in Kerala, creating local jobs and benefit local farmers, now allowed is IMFL (Indian made foreign liquor) mostly manufactured in other states. It is nothing but industrial alcohol with added colour and essence and called whiskey and brandy. Though it is not the business of government to be in business least of all the business of alcohol retail. Yet government has made it their monopoly business to retail alcohol and on top of it make a loss in the process.

Do these impact events and your capability to hold MICE and weddings?

Yes, indeed, very much so! The state’s excise regulations stand as a major hurdle in tourism promotion. 1st of month are dry days, high exorbitant charges for serving alcohol on special events particularly wedding events – all these make the state a difficult destination for MICE and destination weddings. On top of this, wedding planners complain about the additional hurdle faced on account of a practise called Attimari, that gives local hoodlums the right to unload, enabling them to demand high charges, making Kerala the most expensive location to have an event.

And what of the future for this model?

The Kerala model in tourism gave a unique advantage to Kerala. The realisation of the value of this model has not the same following as before. The state’s success will come from this differentiated model. To keep the leadership model, it is important for everybody to value and know your own strengths. Harness those strengths. This is the story for every successful brand.

What could be Kerala tourism 2.0? Is that needed?

Destinations must reinvent to remain relevant! You can’t keep flogging the same thing in eternity. The Kerala model emerged as an innovative disruption to the existing tourism models. It was small local entrepreneur led state supported model. Which easily identified itself with environment sustainability, local community inclusion and offering local .
Kerala’s progress from Bimaru status as far as tourism is concerned to progressive is thanks to the model .It is acknowledged that Kerala has leadership position in Responsible Tourism. This is giving the Kerala destination a preferred destination status especially among the Alert Independent Traveller whose numbers are swelling even among domestic travellers. Though such a destination brand image for Kerala is not waning it will make good sense for Kerala to position the destination more strongly in this space.

Your last word on the subject?

Do what you say. Say what you do.

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