Welcome to God's Own Country!

Kerala State, on the south westerrn tip of India, is called “God’s own country”. Probably this place alone can boast as the one place on any continent where one can be in a T shirt all year long!

You can beat the humidity by being here during the ‘winter’. The weather is what the pundits call ‘salubrious’. You have choices too of tuning the mild weather up or down. It’s more humid but not very hot near the Arabian Sea while up in the hills in the east you will still have very cool foggy afternoons.

In spite of the worldwide financial meltdown and turmoil, people from the western hemisphere and also from the Far East flock to Kerala. Why?

People from Europe and the North America often escape the harsh winter by making it to the East out of economics. Winter heating there can run very costly bills. Alternative? Fly south! India and especially Kerala can be a logical choice if the economics and the cosmetics can combine with all safeguards on place.

The Kerala State government is doing their 'medium' best to promote the theme by breaking it further into folklore tourism, heritage tourism, weather tourism, health tourism and what not. But they have not been able to expand or mine much further.

While tropical and sub-tropical destinations elsewhere in the world tourist map boast of much higher arrivals, Kerala, which is better geographically and travel-economy-wise, has not been able to log better.

Reasons are not many. They can easily be listed as –

a.Government policies distance themselves far from private players.b.No clear follow-up of regulatory apparatus for standards checks.c.Variable pricing of accommodation often without notice.d.General lack of public cleanliness and hygiene.e.Lack of punctuality for transportation modes.f.Lack of local human resources

The government to some level of success launched and implemented the “Vazhiyoram” project recently. This was aimed at providing basic amenities for highway users at the same time boosting entrepreneurs owning property along the highways. One could modify , add or build amenities to attract travellers along the highway to park, rest, refresh and restart. But nowhere to be seen were listings of places where a tourist could plan such stops.

The authorities lacked steam where the regulators should step in for periodic standards checks at hotels and restaurants all along the state. The emphasis here is on hygiene and tariff. Lack of steadfastness in year-round hotel room tariffs continue to comparatively rate Kerala low amongst international tour operators . This is one common grievance heard all over the operators' conventions. In spite of dynamic administration officials making their best appearences at these conventions, the opeartors turn a deaf ear.

Alternative? Hotel owners and operators should learn to lobby both the adminstration and the international travel – tourism networks and remedy the tariff issue by boldly announcing rates that will stay for all the year.

Public cleanliness and hygiene have been pet peeves for those in the civil services and the thinking public for a long time. Kerala too has to suffer, like elsewhere, the pendulum politics of the Left and the Right every five years. While political issues command attention from party leaders during most of their tenures, basic social issues come to the fore only if triggered by cataclysmic tragedy.

Education got a bump as sensitive subject matter in elementary school text books were tweaked. Transportation got a surprise as the floor boards of some of the old passenger omnibuses came off on the run!

The plight of the state highways and all of the national highways remain pathetic inspite of the daily if not hourly mounting accidents and fatality statistics. The very name and the visual on the banner of this website were prompted by the conditions just mentiond. The cities and towns too share the same sad story of open manholes and gaping footpaths.

While one shade of politics frown upon private-public sector participation in infrastructure development, the other long for profit booking opportunities if and when they come to power at the next elections!

Events such as the tsunami, cyclones and terrorist strikes do mar the tourism and travel sector at times. But the urge to travel, hike and discover trigger the ethos of the international traveller. Usually inland tourism does not get affected by events outside the country.

M.I.C.E and Pilgrim tourism emerge as sectors with high development potential.Companies and international associaltions such as the Lions and the JCI offer cross country convention opportunities as incentives for their successful executives. Those in the marketing professions benefit most from such excursions where the executives come into contact with peers from other countries as well as business leaders with whom they interact in person. As the executives travel and stay in groups the travel trade and the hospitality trade should wake up to the new realities. But responsive trends in both public transit and the conventions sectors are yet to catch up in God's own country!

A convention organiser or an event manager has scant resources in Kerala to look for economies while she plans an event of any scale. Opportunities are open for those who can provide convention venues with travel and hospitality packages built and tailored for a range of budgets. While the client side hungers for moe information, the providers are yet to get their acts together to propose a menu to the increasing demand!

Pilgrim tourism is also on the rise. Major temples, churches, mosques and synagogues dot the Kerala pilgrim map. But the lack of world-class hospitality available in most of these venues except perhaps at Guruvayur and Cochin exposes the gap at Sabarimala, Bharananganam (the tomb of St.Alphonsa) and the Cheraman mosque at Kodungallur only to name a few.

Opportunities abound for the imaginative entrepreneur who can plan and put in place structures that complement the existing demands in the travel and tourism sectors fully meeting the requirements of tourists with varying wallets but meeting basic inyernational-grade standards of cleanliness and hygiene. It pays to remember the Mahatma's guidance “cleanliness does not cost money”.

The regulators should wake up to match the enthusiasm by cross-co-ordinating efforts and help emerge Kerala with a network of world class road network, state-of-the-art telecom (almost already here!) and well-priced accommodation for a demanding public.

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