After leading its stakeholders for round-the-clock rescue and relief operations during the floods, the Kerala tourism department is again at the forefront in rebuilding the state. State tourism secretary Rani George talks to Faizal Khan about the new campaigns and the focus on sustainable tourism. Edited excerpts:
What is the role of tourism in rebuilding Kerala after the floods?
The tourism sector in Kerala has a direct and indirect annual revenue of $4.8 billion, including $1.2 billion in foreign exchange earnings. The sector has generated over 1.5 million jobs for the people of Kerala. It is a very important part of the rebuilding. As far as tourism is concerned, we are on the recovery path. We can confidently say that most of the travel and tourism industry in the state is ready to receive guests.
What are the immediate steps taken by the tourism department?
We launched a quick Tourism Readyness Survey from September 5 to 15 in 70 destinations in all the 14 districts of the state. The survey showed that 38 of the 70 destinations were unaffected and 22 affected destinations had been restored. Only 10 destinations were not operational or partially operational. In case of connectivity to these destinations, 25 were unaffected, while accessibility had been restored in 37. Partial connectivity was available in eight destinations where repair work is going on. Our entire department and stakeholders were fully involved in rescue and relief during the floods. We put into use boats, buses, hotels and guesthouses of the tourism sector for rescue and relief.
How are the cancellations by visitors going to affect your efforts?
The main loss for the tourism sector is cancellations. The estimate of loss in terms of cancellations in August is `500 crore. But the situation is improving. International visitors and domestic travellers have started arriving. We have so far received 60 chartered flights after the floods.
Tell us about the new campaigns to attract visitors?
We have launched a new campaign called ‘This Time For Kerala’. We started from Delhi and went to Ahmedabad. Next, we will visit Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Kolkata. We are also scheduling roadshows. The main aim is to tell everyone that Kerala is ready to welcome guests.
Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has called for a sustainable tourism model, which would protect and preserve nature. How is the tourism department going to implement it?
The chief minister has put forth suggestions for rebuilding Kerala. Earlier this year, we announced our new tourism policy. The focus is on sustainable tourism. The main element is the Responsible Tourism initiative for the social and economic betterment of the community and protecting the environment. We will be supporting local entrepreneurs.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer