After Covid and fewer lockdown restrictions, people are slowly entering hotels and restaurants. But cinema theatres which are considered one of the prime sources of entertainment continue to be shut down. There are broad indications that Kerala could well be on its way back to normalcy following the pandemic and lockdown. As if to commemorate this claim, tourism centres are also opening up one by one. Post pandemic, what will be the future of the tourism industry in Kerala? Minister Mohammed has many dreams about the tourism sector and on this World Tourism Day, he opens about his plans for Kerala.
What were the challenges facing the tourism industry in Kerala during the Covid period? What steps can be taken to resolve them?
The current major challenge in the tourism sector in Kerala is to overcome the crisis created by Covid. Some projects have already been implemented for this purpose. The aim is to boost the confidence of the tourism sector by giving the message of 'Safe Kerala, Safe Tourism' to the world. This is where the idea of one hundred percent vaccinated destinations came up. Wayanad’s Vythiri was the first place chosen to implement this idea. The Department of Health and the Government stood by this plan. Vythiri has become the first destination in the country to receive the 100% first dose of the vaccine. Now Wayanad district itself has risen to that level.
It was not just because Wayanad is an unexplored destination that it was chosen, it is also the district that shares borders with Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Post-Covid, the concept of ‘workcation’ has become rampant. We decided to utilize that concept further. The influx of tourists in Wayanad suggests that this idea has been beneficial. What started in Wayanad has spread to other destinations.
What changes will be the first priority after Covid? What can be done to boost the confidence of the region?
I don’t think it is appropriate to call it post Covid as it still prevails. And under such circumstances, the deal is to make tourism safer. We have already thought of newer projects. Caravan Tourism is one such project. The idea is to use Caravan as a means of transport. This will help in finding and exploring newer tourism destinations. I am sure this will energise our tourism industry. The Farm Tourism Network understands the potential of Agri-tourism and is ready to take advantage of it. Kerala Tourism is growing into new areas. The Literary Circuit project, which integrates literature, art, culture, and history, is being prepared. A biodiversity circuit that can conserve and study biodiversity is also being implemented. It seeks to expand tourism to a wider area than it currently is. That is what is being tried through such schemes.
The future is participatory tourism involving people. Will there be steps to expand this sort of tourism in Kerala?
The government's view is that people's participation is the basis of tourism development. People's participation is needed in every sector. The Responsible Tourism Mission has formulated and implemented notable projects in this regard. It is trying to expand it to more areas. We are also trying to ensure public participation in the formulation of projects.
Caravan parks need to be built under the Caravan Tourism Project. The job potential it opens up is also huge. The situation is getting ready to introduce local tastes, art, and culture. In collaboration with the Youth Welfare Board, local youth can be trained to ensure security at such centers. Agri Tourism aims to have a network of 500 farms within two years. It will make a difference in the areas of agriculture, employment, and tourism.
Are the possibilities of using the prospects of rural arts and sights in front of foreigners being considered?
We will increase the facility to present all our arts and spots to foreign tourists. We can present a comprehensive calendar. Accordingly, it can also attract tourists.
What is your vision for developing new tourism destinations?
What is important for our state is to enable the full potential of the tourism sector. There are many tourist destinations that are not explored. Such areas will be developed. Development in the manifesto promises to harness the tourism potential of Malabar. It will be implemented. Another idea is the development of local tourism centers. The aim is to be a tourism destination at the regional level. It is not only centered around its beauty and sights but also based on the discovery and development of places of historical significance. We have held discussions with the Local Government Department and are also in talks with the local body presidents. It is hoped that at least 500 local tourism centers will be created in the first phase.
Are there any timely changes in the campaigns and campaign methods to highlight Kerala in the world tourism market, including on social media?
Of course, the goal is to make maximum of the technology available. There will be a change in the marketing system in the tourism sector as well. We are currently exploiting new possibilities and they will be updated in due course.
What are the plans in your mind to attract foreigners who haven’t explored Kerala much?
Don't we keep saying that if you go to the moon, you will see a Malayalee's tea shop there too? That is our greatest asset, the Malayalees living in foreign countries. They are our tourism ambassadors. There is a Loka Kerala Sabha that has been formed for the union of Malayalees outside Kerala. This will enable us to contact our Malayalee Associations and promote tourism through them. Malayalees who are familiar with the local people and their language will be able to communicate with them quickly. During Onam, I spoke to them about the World Pookala competition. There will be a sequel to it. Plans are being made for it
What can be done to make tourism feel like it belongs to the people and to overcome the opposition to the projects?
If you want to develop a tourist center, you must be able to see that progress in the daily lives of the people of that country. When the leap of any tourist destination reaches a point where it connects with the lives of the local people, people will take every project as their own. The growth of tourism in that country should become the personal responsibility of every citizen. Ensuring the cleanliness of the land should become a citizen's greatest responsibility. People will become the guardians of the country for the growth of tourism. People will take care of the peace and sanitation of the country. That is how the Department of Tourism sees the development of tourism and the growth of tourist destinations.
There are many complaints about the infrastructure of tourism centers. Maintenance is ensured for some time after the opening time, but later neglect is common?
Definitely, this is the main issue I intend to address. Maintenance is not efficient in many places. It will be taken care of while preparing the plans. So we will try to implement the projects by determining the responsibility of maintenance.
Understanding the importance of domestic tourism during the Covid period, what events are being planned?
We have already mentioned the potentials of Agri-tourism and Caravan tourism. Local-level tourism destination also enhances the potential of local and domestic tourism. Domestic tourists will come to know more about Kerala through the innovations offered by the new destinations.
Are new packages being considered to overcome the recession in the tourism sector?
A package has been announced in the budget. Steps have been taken to implement it.
Jungle safaris are very effective in foreign countries as part of their tourism promotions There is a general complaint from travelers that the restrictions in our forests are strict. Any ideas for mitigating that?
The potential of forest tourism is under serious scrutiny. The matter has been discussed with the forest minister. Forest tourism can be implemented without harming the natural habitat of the forest.
What do you think after the discussions held as part of the efforts to give a new face to the tourism sector? What insight did such discussions present as a minister?
I'm someone who always welcomes such conversations. There are so many things we are not aware of. I am eager to learn and understand such things. Anything that will help me better in my field of work. I am ready to spend as much time as possible on that. After becoming a minister, it is just that I am just trying to learn more about the department. I am eager to have conversations with people who have seen the world as it will enhance my worldview. I am trying to implement all that can be done. That process will continue.
Aqua-tourism has endless possibilities. Parvati Puthanar cleaning has started as a part of it, but it is a condition that goes on indefinitely. Is there any action for this?
Our waterway itself is a huge tourism potential. When it is completed, we are also planning to enhance the tourism development in the adjoining areas. The tourism potential of rivers and lakes will be utilized to the maximum. In many places, adventure tourism also has potential in the waters. All of that has been planned ahead.
Will there be a facility for tourists to buy liquor without queuing at tourism centers? Are you considering setting up more modern outlets in the tourist centres?
Those are all matters related to the Excise Department