Kerala is pinning its hope on the contemporary art festival, Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), to revive the fortunes of its tourism sector which seems to have been hit hard by the Centre’s demonetisation drive. India’s first contemporary art biennale, KMB, is on its third edition and will extend till March 29. Officials of the Biennale expect more than half a million visitors at the 12 venues where 97 artistes from 31 countries are displaying their creative work.
In addition to its successful branding as ‘God’s Own Country’, Kerala will now also be promoted as the ‘Land of the Biennale’, Kerala tourism director UV Jose said. While the state is known for distinctive offerings such as its ayurveda therapies and houseboats, the Biennale will now be added to that list of iconic Kerala products, Jose said.
Kerala chief minister P Vijayan had tweeted that demonetisation has hit the tourism sector hard with a drop of 8.7% in international and 17.7% in domestic tourists reported so far. Data from the Kerala tourism department shows that foreign tourist arrival to Kerala during the year 2015 was 9,77,479, an increase of 5.86% over the previous year’s figure of 9,23,366. Foreign exchange earnings for the year 2015 stood at R6949.88 crore which recorded an increase of 8.61 % over the previous year.
Kerala Tourism principal secretary Venu V said the biennale has helped the state’s tourism sector offset the crisis brought on by demonetisation. “When Kerala tourism had a crisis on its hands with the demonetisation policy affecting tourist arrivals, the biennale has created a unique economic zone that supported the tourism sector and brought money into the hands of the common man and the local community,” he said.
“From a government point of view, I can’t think of a better investment. This speaks volumes for what an event like this can do for tourism and for the economy of a city and state. The government support created a base upon which the curator, the KBF and the trustees could work on,” the tourism secretary said.
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Apart from its economic contributions and the quality of art on display, the magic of the biennale has been the connections it has managed to create between individuals, communities, groups and institutions, Venu said, adding: “This is not just about art or tourism. It is about the common man of Fort Kochi and Mattancherry and creating the sense of ownership and involvement across sections of people. It has become a model to follow.”
The state-run Kerala tourism department is keen to tap the cultural and art tourists who are known to spend more money than the ordinary traveller. Studies show that cultural and heritage visitors from the US spend – on an average – $994 per trip, compared to $611 for normal travellers.