From pomfret to paneer: Kerala tourism takes the veg track

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: May 31 2010, 03:35am hrs
After seeing a gradual dip in the inflow of international tourists, Keralas tourism industry has started to rely more on domestic visitors. In the process, they are turning Kerala into a vegetable dishes-preferred tourist spot, shedding the long-established pseudonym of meat-eaters paradise.

Tourism bosses are thumbing through vegetable recipes to lure meat-averse domestic travellers, especially from Gujarat. Last year, domestic tourists to Kerala rose 2.7% to 7.8 million, almost a tenth of them from Gujarat.

Pomfret fry or beef curry may be the dining nirvana for some travellers, but an only-vegetarian kitchen is essential for many Indian travellers, Kerala Tourism drector M Sivasankar told FE. The tourism department has asked 500 star hotels to add separate vegetarian kitchens as part of its Dream Season Campaign. The department is also taking cues from hotel chains which went vegetarian in their Ahmedabad operations.

KTDC has risen to the occasion, introducing only-veg meals in its country-boat cruises, Ithipuzha. With the peak summer heat, greens may also sit easy on the holidayers plates, says Paulson Pookkattil, chef in a houseboat.

The inflow of rich Jain families is equally high. We are also taking more care to make foods preferred by the Jain community available, Pookkattil adds.

Kerala Tourism, in spite of being the only Indian entry in Superbrands.com, is somewhat imbalanced now, with a drop in foreign travellers. At 5.5 lakh, foreign arrivals were down 8.38% in 2009. In 2008, Kerala saw a 16% growth in international arrivals. Kerala crossed Rs 13,000-crore mark in tourism revenues, mainly on the back of foreign tourists.

We anticipate a 70% surge in arrivals this season, says V Venu, principal secretary, Kerala Tourism. Last season, from December 2009 to March 2010, though there were initial fears about a thinning inflow of foreign tourists, they turned up in good numbers. Extremely cold winter in Europe did help to keep the numbers strong. But then, the volcano ash in Europe has dampened spirits, says KC Chandrahasan, MD, Kerala Travels Interserve.

The biggest challenge comes from Sri Lanka, which enjoys good air connectivity. High-voltage pitching for upmarket tourism has also made Gods Own Country a tad too costly for comfort.Sri Lanka provides five-star room facilities at $60 per day, while in Kerala the same would cost $300.

The state is, however, conscious that foreign tourists still love the local fish cuisine. It is still a big draw for European travellers. The veg drive is only to attract more domestic tourists, says Tomy Pulikkattil, secretary, Houseboat Owners Association.