The money spinning tourism industry in Kerala has taken a huge beating following the Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown. A three-pronged strategy has been drawn up to ensure the sector gets back on its feet at the earliest.
After a stellar performance in the last calendar year, when it registered a 17.2 per cent rise in tourist (domestic and foreign) arrivals with the number touching 1.96 crore, over 2018, the Covid blow has been severe.
In a chat with IANS at his office in the State Secretariat, 65-year-old Kadakampally Surendran said there will be a fund floated to immediately address the condition of more than a lakh who are directly associated with the sector. A first time Minister handling both Tourism and Devasoms, the two-time legislator Surendran, known for his proximity to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, has a huge task ahead.
But for the seasoned politician who has risen from the ranks, he has his vision clear. Surendran said having handled the pandemic successfully and professionally he expects to reap the benefits as thousands of tourists who were in Kerala during the pandemic outbreak would be its ambassador for health tourism in the times ahead.
Q: Covid-19 has taken a heavy toll on Kerala tourism, what’s the loss?
A: Last calendar year tourism fetched us Rs 45,000 crores and the direct loss suffered on account of Covid-19, as of now is in the range of Rs 15,000 crores and if you take into account the loss in the coming months, it would be much more.
Q: What are the plans for Kerala Tourism, post Covid-19?
A: We have drawn up a three pronged strategy – short, medium and long term – to get back the industry. Included in the short term strategy is to ensure some sort of financial assistance to all those who lost their jobs on account of the tourism industry downing its shutters. We plan to approach the financial institutions, banks and the state government will also chip in, to float a fund which will be used to provide assistance to about one lakh people who are directly associated with the industry.
The medium term plan is to provide market development assistance to the industry in the form of a loan with a ceiling of Rs 25 lakhs at very low rates of interest. We will approach the state owned financial institutions and even banks. We will give discounted fees for all those who will participate in international and national tourism fairs.
The long term plan would be to launch an aggressive marketing strategy which will be showcased across the globe.
Apart from these, the other sops that we will provide to all in the industry is to give relaxation in fees which the industry has to bear when it comes to renewing their licenses. Players in the industry will be given time to pay their electricity bills. We have also approached the Centre to ensure that there is some relief given in filing GST returns.
Q; What would be the immediate strategy for branding Kerala Tourism?
A: We had around 8000 foreign tourists who were in our state when Covid-19 struck. (The first case in the country was registered at Thrissur on January 30). They have seen how Kerala handled this and you should not forget that eight foreign nationals became Covid positive and were treated here and have all gone back.
Q: So how are you planning to make it your advantage?
A: We have the data base of all these people who were here and saw everything, when various countries including theirs were finding it tough. We have by now received many letters of appreciation on how they felt here, during the tough times. We have documented everything and this would be our biggest material to project Kerala Tourism. Many of them have promised to return as they have understood what Kerala is.
Q: Are you planning to use Kerala’s strength in health and health tourism?
A: Yes, of course, because we handled the pandemic quite well and professionally. Kerala health status is become a brand and we are even planning to market this strength to the cash rich foreign tourists if they would be keen to invest in our proposed health and medical devices park.
Q: For long the complaint is the high air fares being charged, what do you intend to do?
A: We are soon going to meet all the airlines officials with a request because, from what we see, Kerala Tourism would be the first to get back to its feet, because of our proven inherent health protocols. We see a huge prospect in domestic tourism to start picking up in a few months time. We wish and hope by the end of this year – when our tourism season begins, foreign tourists arrive in good numbers.
Q: What are your planned events?
A: The Champions Boat League is one and we will see how best we can put it on track. The traditional Onam week-long festivities will also be held during August/September. The signature event of Kerala Tourism is the Kerala Tourism Mart (KTM) and we are going forward to hold it as planned in September.
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