Kerala to tap MICE segment to catch 2-cr tourists

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Sep 28 2011, 07:17am hrs
The Kerala government has realised that MICE is the word to keep tourism biz cats well fed and in top form. To perk up the MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) segment, Gods Own Country is toying with the idea of setting up a Convention Promotion Bureau to market Kochi region aggressively.

Focusing on a high-earning segment has become crucial for Kerala as the states draft tourism policy targets 26 lakh international tourists and 1.8 crore domestic tourists per season by 2021. In 2010, Kerala had seen 6.6 lakh foreign tourists and 86 lakh domestic tourists.

The states tourism planners recommend that the inflow of free-spending travellers and the period of stay must be beefed up to boost revenue. We need to think of effective strategies for short haul/long haul tourist to get them to extend the stay. Only by the raised spending of tourists, the local economy can benefit, state tourism minister AP Anil Kumar told FE.

The state's policy envisages helping the industry in creating imaginative multi-experience products to persuade the guests to stay longer in the backwaters, beaches, heritage spots and hills of Kerala. The draft policy is placed on the Kerala tourism's official website so that new ideas can pour in till September 30, when the policy will be finalised.

Tourism statistics point out that it is the string of major national and international conventions that bring the cream of revenues at all levels of tourism supply chain, from travel agency owners to boat oarsmen, from hotel owners to restaurant waiters. Backwaters in Alapuzha has developed into a convention hub after the emergence of luxury houseboats that offered special packages for board meetings aboard. Houseboat entrepreneurs, except those on Vembanad lake, will be offered initial incentive. This is to avoid overcrowding of houseboats at Vembanad lake and to promote regional spread.

Marketing efforts had been limited to established tourism markets in Europe because of budgetary constraints, says former tourism secretary of Kerala V Venu. This time, there will be efforts to explore markets in China, Russia, Malaysia and Scandinavia.

British tourists had been the mainstay of Kerala tourism, conventionally. The break up of international tourists to Kerala in 2010 shows, the United Kingdom accounting for as much as 23.7% of total foreign tourists. About 10.8% were from the United States, 9.8% from France and 5.6% from Australia.

The thrust is on world class but local experience. So new private investors will be asked to stick to projects that are sensitive to environment and local communities. The state will allow fast-track clearance for projects that cost above Rs 10 crore. To channelise investment to less-explored north Kerala locales, accommodation units in these areas will get tax holidays.

Ever since its entry to the international list of destinations, Kerala Tourism has been fastidious about its quality credo. This means that incentives will soon be linked to responsible tourism (RT) practices on par with the manuals of Global Sustainable Tourism Critera. The draft policy says that at least 30% of classified and approved units in rural areas will be upgraded to RT category in 10 years.

The business-terrain is going to be harsh for entrepreneurs who aren't aware of the RT thumb rules. The draft policy cautions that the existing investment subsidy will go by 2013. Instead, a 15% investment subsidy (with a Rs 20-lakh ceiling) package will be in place, which only those with RT tag can avail of. With the support of civic bodies, Kerala Tourism is also planning a campaign, 'Kerala a waste-free destination'.

Its true that MICE tourism is a money-fetcher. However, no campaign will bring lasting dividends, if the infrastructure facilities continue to be poor, especially in terms of good road connectivity, says Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry president EM Najeeb.

At a juncture when the state is planning to host as nearly as many tourists as its population of 3,4 crore, deficit of quality accommodation is as high as 10,000 rooms. Kerala is also dismayed by its shortage of skilled tourism staff. Although MICE is a fast-responding marketing segment, the dearth of trained manpower could put off the MICE guests off God's Own Country track faster than the policy-planner like.