Kerala Tourism seeks ayurvedic rejuvenation

Written by M Sarita Varma | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: Dec 19 2012, 09:03am hrs
Everyone has heard of the Western Ghats, Keralas eastern fringe, but it is for the first time that the countrys top tourism destination has thought of brandishing more than 900 species of rare, theraupic ayurvedic herbs, growing wild and green on the Ghats, as a unique marketing tool. The R19,037-crore Kerala Tourism is working out new ways to win back its hegemony on ayurvedic tourism, after Unesco tagged the Western Ghats as one of the worlds eight biodiversity hotspots.

Acknowledging the biodiversity of the Western Ghats is indirectly acknowledging the curative property of the herbs. This automatically hallmarks Keralas Ayurveda tradition, and gives an opportunity to push ayurvedic tourism to its next value-added stage, Kerala tourism minister AP Anil Kumar told FE.

Although Kerala is historically home to curative and rejuvenative practices in ayurveda, it was countries like Sri Lanka and the overseas ashrams of Indian swamis like Mahesh Yogi that managed to make a substantial international business out of it. There have been instances of travellers from Kerala being treated to herbal cures grown in Kerala at Sri Lankan resorts. Clearly Gods own country had been somewhat under-marketing its ayurveda advantage so far.

The biodiversity of the Western Ghats would give Kerala a decision-tipping extra brownie point among tour-planners, when choosing the best health destination, added Kumar. Under the ayurveda-focused tourism campaign, the average length of a holiday for a foreign tourist is expected to go up to 18 days.

Anticipating that private investment could be steered to this route, the state has proposed a pilot project in a public-private partnership (PPP) model, where all forms of medicine allopathy, ayurveda, unani and siddha will be offered under one roof as an integrated system. About 25 acres have been acquired at the plantation-studded hill station Nelliyampathy, in Palakkad, for implementing the project.

Another plan is to brush up ayurvedas linkages with ancient therapeutic systems like yoga. Experts in the Kerala ayurveda system tell us that it is not mere therapy, but a holistic lifestyle management plan. To ensure that the patient maintains a robust lifestyle, it has to be integrated with a suitable post-treatment yoga routine. For instance, the surya namaskar is said to increase blood circulation and flexibility of 97% of the muscles, said Kerala tourism secretary Suman Billa.

The focus would also shift from the present rejuvenation packages to include cures. People only know about Kerala ayurvedas rejuvenation massage. The western world generally does not know that Kerala ayurveda has exclusive and lasting cures for some kinds of backaches, rheumatism, spondylites and psoriasis. These need to be advertised in a better way, said the states tourism director Rani George.

For some time, ayurveda in the state was smeared with the proliferation of fraudulent ayurdevic parlours. To discourage such players, the state has put in place a quality assessment system that gives Green Leaf or Olive Leaf grading for Ayurvedic institutions.

Keralas tourism revenues had grown from R17,348 crore in 2010 to R19,037 crore in 2011. The state received 10 million tourists last year, of which 800,000 were foreign visitors. Britain, France and Russia topped the list of countries sending in tourists to the state. In the 1990s, German and Swiss tourists used to populate the states wellness tourism segment following the story of the unique energy herb arogyapachain the Western Ghats. The Agasthyakoodam peak near Thiruvananthapuram, part of the Western Ghats, is said to be the nursery of some of the rarest medicinal herbs.

The Tropical Botanical Garden and Research Institute had spotted the rare arogyapacha (Trichopus zeylanicus ssp.travancoricus) which the local tribes used to boost energy. In 1997, a group with the Kani tribe was given seed money for cultivating the plant in its natural habitat.