The tourism season in Kerala, which kicked into play in September and will wind up in March next year, could not have had a worse start. The state’s tale of woes began in May-June with the Nipah virus outbreak in the northern districts of Kozhikode and Malappuram that resulted in advisories against travel to the state and led to a wave of cancellations of hotel bookings. Then came the devastating floods. There was hardly any time to recover as September arrived, and with it the annual jamboree Kerala Travel Mart. Surprising even its fiercest critics, the tourism department leveraged the participants from across the globe to turn the situation to its advantage, with a marketing blitz spearheaded by the slogan #KeralaIsOpen.
The stories of heroics, especially about the fishermen who rescued hundreds of people, are now being showcased to give a boost to the state’s ‘God’s Own Country’ tag. It will take that and some more as there is a mountain to climb, since tourism accounts for 10 per cent of Kerala’s GDP and sustains almost a quarter of the state’s workforce. The August floods, which killed over 400 people and displaced over one million, did not even lead to visits by disaster tourists, as is the norm, with many parts of the state partially cut off. The damage was done when Kochi airport was inundated and remained out of reach to the world for about a fortnight.
The rather lukewarm response to the once-in-12-years phenomenon, the blooming of the neelakurinji flowers right across the hill ranges of Munnar, is worrying. The previous year saw nearly 11 lakh foreigners visiting Kerala, an increase of 5.15 per cent from a year ago. The domestic tourist arrivals were even healthier—1.46 crore visitors, up 11.39 per cent from 2016. The state tourism industry earned foreign exchange to the tune of `8,392.11 crore, up 8.29 per cent from 2016. Clearly, this is a tall order now and the state will find it tough to bear any more surprises—natural calamities or man-made disasters.