Over the past 20 years, Kerala has established itself as a major leisure tourism market in India, competing with Goa and the Agra-Delhi-Jaipur network. Marketed as “God’s own country”, its tourism department says it received more than four lakh foreign visitors in 2006 and is now looking to extend the economic benefits of tourism to the poor.
“Responsible tourism will be the foundation of all future activities of Kerala Tourism,” said the state’s minister of tourism, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan.
Kerala’s government wants to make sure that local communities benefit from the economic gains of tourism, said Venu V., secretary for Kerala’s tourism department. He cited an initiative to encourage local hotels to purchase goods from local communities as an example of responsible tourism. He said that surveys are currently being conducted by hotels in Kerala to determine how many of their goods could be purchased from self-help groups and from the underprivileged class and other local producers. He expects the programme to be implemented by August.
According to a national report, 12.72% of Kerala’s population, or 41 lakh people, lived below the poverty line in fiscal 2000, the latest period for which the data is available. That compares with 4.4%, or 4.07 lakh, poor people in Goa.
The state received Rs1,988.4 crore from foreign exchange revenues from tourism in 2006, an increase of more than 28% over the previous year.
Venu said that as part of its responsible tourism policy, Kerala will also continue to push environment-friendly measures, such as encouraging hoteliers to conduct impact studies on their properties. This is not the first time Kerala has attempted to use tourism to change some social patterns in the state. The Energy Resource Institute, which studies sustainable development and bio-diversity, said Kerala has had past successes in promoting non-financial aims through its tourism policy. For example, at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady, the state has moved animal poachers into tourism-related professions such as guiding visitors.
Hotelier Jaideep Singh, whose company opened the Radisson Plaza Resort & Spa Kumarakom in Kerala last October, said he supports the government’s responsible tourism policy. “Clients are getting very sensitive about these issues,” said Singh, vice-president, operations for The Phoenix Group, which also operates a hotel in Goa.
It “is a line that people want…to hear,” he said. Singh said his hotel sources several products, including fish and baskets, from nearby residents.
Singh said that “responsible tourism” will also help industry by boosting Kerala’s already strong brand as a tourism destination.
Kerala’s tourism department is also focused on shoring up tourism during the off-season by promoting visits during the monsoon season and attempting to increase domestic tourism.