REBOOT of the KERALA TOURISM INDUSTRY Post Covid-19
Kerala – God’s Own Country – HEAVEN NEVER SHUTS DOWN
Dr. MAITHILY P R
Kollam, Kerala 690 542
Chennai, Tamilnadu 600 024
The Covid-19, presumably originating from Wuhan, China, has spread around the world and brought in a lot of uncertainty. The outbreak has had a severe negative impact on the inbound tourism segment in the State of Kerala (God’s own Country), India. The Travel & Tourism industry is the biggest industry of the state and forms the backbone of its economy and the primary stimulant for social development and progress. It stimulates every other sector by bringing in precious foreign exchange and investments in real estate and infrastructure.
The Travel & Tourism industry is on its knees worldwide. Country borders are sealed. Cities are at stand-still. Flights are grounded. Cruise ships are docked in harbours. Trains are stationary. Buses are not plying. Hotels are shut. Restaurants are shuttered. No one knows when the fury of the virus will abate; no vaccine is in sight; people are cloistered in their homes. Social distancing is the new mantra. Masks and gloves are the new safety accoutrements. People are scared to even think of a holiday, let alone planning for one.
This paper analyzes the ways and means of how Kerala’s Travel & Tourism industry can wade through this turbulence and emerge a winner in the shortest possible time. Suggestions being proposed include some revolutionary thoughts and measures that can be implemented easily by a resolute administration.
Tourist seasons in Kerala come mainly under three categories – Summer (March to May), Monsoon (June to September) and Winter (October to February). Among these, October to February is considered as the peak tourist season. The 2019-2020 Winter tourist season was tapering down when the COVID-19 crisis struck. Due to its timing, the losses were minimal for the specific season, but questions arose on the future, due to the pandemic having severely affected the global economy. Though Kerala was affected by the 2018 and 2019 floods, the tourist inflow had largely been unaffected, thanks to the measures swiftly implemented by the administration.
The future with Covid-19 however appears totally different. Everyone seems lost. The situation appears to be like the aftermath of the Third World War, when the entire world is expected to be in a crisis. Lifestyles and thought processes are expected to change worldwide. Affiliations and friendships are expected to change, and so is the element of the dynamics of trust. The changed scenario is expected to deliver a huge blow to the economies of the world, businesses and the common man. The Travel & Tourism industry is expected to be the worst hit.
The hospitality and airline industries have reported a huge fall in income due to cancellations of bookings and trips. The worst aspect here is that no individual, organization or government is able to predict when the crisis will be over. It has to be accepted that the Covid-19 virus is here to stay, much similar to the common Flu virus. What matters here is how we manage to cope up in this new environment.
State and Central governments worldwide have imposed strict lockdowns which ensure that people remain indoors, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. But we now know that the result of these lockdowns has not resulted in curtailing the spread of the virus.
The virus is here to stay. Humanity will need to learn on how to live with it, rather than hiding from it. Measures need to be taken to curtail its spread, and work has to commence to get back the economy progressing.
OBJECTIVES OF STUDY
The future of the Travel & Tourism industry looks bleak, in-spite of the need for humanity to travel.
This paper explores the existing situation caused due to the pandemic and suggests a few ways and means that the industry can adopt, to contribute to its early revival.
The authors wish to emphasize and send a message to the world that Kerala – God’s Own Country, never shuts down. HEAVEN NEVER SHUTS DOWN.
The Travel & Tourism industry includes the aviation, transport, hospitality and tourism segments, which are highly interdependent on each other. Several other local industries, including the cottage and handicraft industries, depend on this segment for its survival. The Travel & Tourism industry which emphasizes and gloats on human networking with close physical interaction has been the first industry to get affected. Unfortunately, it is being said that this will also be the last industry that will recover from the pandemic. The crisis in the primary and secondary markets in the State of Kerala is unprecedented.
- The pandemic is not a local issue that has affected the State of Kerala alone. The whole world is reeling from its effects.
- People are now scared of meeting other people, irrespective of nationalities, origins or religion, as the virus knows none of these. They have shunned any form of physical interaction with anyone, which unfortunately is the foundation on which the hospitality segment is built upon.
- The loss of jobs and the absence of work for people worldwide has resulted in a huge drop in their disposable incomes, which will affect their ability to travel for a long period, even after the pandemic.
- Despite the pandemic causing zero occupancy and patronage, the Travel & Tourism industry is still obliged to maintain their properties and facilities. Hence, irrespective of inflows, a certain cash outflow is always to be managed. This has resulted in the mounting of debts for smaller players in the industry, with no idea of when repayment will commence. A sizable number of allied and dependent industries are also facing mounting debt and a possible debt-trap.
- The Travel & Tourism industry employs highly-skilled personnel for all its activities. All this skilled manpower has either been placed on unpaid leave, lost their jobs or are exploring other job opportunities that have been thrown up during this pandemic. This will cause a shortage of skilled manpower when the industry limps back to normality.
- The closure or downgrading of almost all business enterprises and the corporate segment worldwide have resulted in the economies plummeting to an extreme low, with no signs of revival. The health of this segment is vital for the Travel & Tourism industry because of frequent business-related travel, conferences and meetings.
- The Kerala tourism industry is highly popular with tourists from the USA, UK, Germany, France, Portugal, Middle East, Australia and South-East Asia. Hence, any revival of the Kerala Travel & Tourism industry is dependent on the revival of the economies of the above-mentioned countries and regions. They are often referred to as the ‘Source Countries’ in the local tourism lingo.
- As the global revival from the Covid-19 pandemic is going to be long, slow and painful, with no guarantee that the deadly virus will be totally eliminated, solutions for the industry’s revival have to take into consideration the probability of continued co-existence with the virus, that may surface occasionally or seasonally (like hay-fever or flu), and have to implement fool-proof and fail-safe measures to build confidence with leisure travelers, business travelers and tourists.
- The State of Kerala, headed by a dynamic government, has however proved its abilities to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, through scientific and innovative methods and measures. The cooperation of the people of Kerala, who are known to be better educated than the rest of the country has helped a lot in the containment. Covid-19 affected people and the death rates in India, especially in the State of Kerala, is the lowest worldwide, considering the population density. The containment has come in for praise worldwide, and this can bring in a faster recovery of the industry, subject to several other allied factors being put in place.
ANALYSIS OF STRENGTHS
After much study, deep research and several interactions with the doyens of the Kerala Travel & Tourism industry, and thought leaders, some measures are being suggested for an early revival of the Travel & Tourism industry, with specific reference to the State of Kerala.
- WHO recommended measures of hygiene, cleanliness and sanitation have to be implemented strictly, without any compromise whatsoever, in all the government owned and private lodges, hotels, resorts and other facilities. The amenable nature of the Kerala population may enable easy implementation and acceptance of the same.
- Kerala has a long-standing reputation to be a destination for health and fitness. It is already known for Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Yoga and several other natural treatments, that offers wholesome health which includes enhancing the immunity of the human body. The growth rate of tourists flocking for Ayurveda has been increasing every year at a rate of around 20-25 per cent. Some aspects of these have been implemented by the State in its drive for the containment of the deadly virus. This has proved to be extremely successful and has invited the praise of health and wellness experts worldwide. This exclusivity of the State has no competition worldwide and has to be leveraged.
- The backwaters of Kerala are a unique feature of the State and are not found anywhere else in the world. The canals connect the villages together and are still used for local transport. Kerala’s backwaters offer a spectacular opportunity to see the State and can be easily traversed by boat. Houseboat rentals are very popular with honeymooners, families and groups.
- Several hospitality establishments and facilities exist in the State that are isolated, firmly positioned on the lap of nature, disconnected from densely populated areas. These facilities can be put to use innovatively.
- Due to its peculiar nature, Kerala State has always been in the eye of investors. The post-Covid period could be a period when we could sadly witness the exit of several small and mid-sized players from the tourism industry. However, this could be converted into an advantage.
- Several changes in operational procedures will have to be implemented. They could even be bordering on lifestyle changes to many and may even seem to be bordering on mistrust and practice of untouchability. Over a period of time, tourists to the State will adapt to the change in practices, and will begin to appreciate the measures in the long run.
- Health tourism solely depends on trust, which is already being enjoyed by the State of Kerala, with the world populace. It can be combined with leisure tourism in a big way, which offers a huge potential. It must be remembered that this combination will have tremendous mental and psychological effects on every tourist, and these can be effectively capitalized upon.
- The old-world order will not exist anymore. People will be more health conscious and adopt hygienic practices at all levels. Security and screening will be the norm, everywhere. The people of Kerala have already demonstrated their willingness to be a part of the new world order.
These recommendations have been carefully thought of, and if implemented in an honest and transparent manner, will revive the Travel & Tourism industry in the State of Kerala in a very short time, earlier than expected, well ahead of other industries.
The path forward for the Travel & Tourism industry has to be through Public-Private-Government participation. Only if the efforts of all the three entities combine together, will the ideas being presented here work. The ‘target segment’ will be understood from the list of recommendations being made herein.
1. TARGET HIGH-PAYING TOURISTS
Though everyone has been affected worldwide by the Covid-19, the high-paying tourist segments still have disposable incomes. And they are yearning to travel. This segment should be the ‘target segment’ initially. It may be noted that bookings on cruise liners for 2021 have already increased by 40% over 2019. This is enough proof that people do want to travel as early as possible. This segment needs to be wooed and tapped immediately.
2. DISINFECTION WELCOME
Every tourist or guest checking into any facility passes through a disinfection area before he/she steps on to the public areas of the property. It could be in the form of a comfortable wash room, where every guest is expected to sterilize himself. Sterilized bath robes must be made available, as also a facility for the guests to dump their used clothes for laundry. Responsible tourism needs to be enhanced, as a mantra. The foreign tourists emphasize a lot on hygiene and Kerala has an edge over the rest of the country.
3. HEALTH & WELLNESS DESTINATION
The success of Kerala in dealing with the containment of the pandemic and its proven use of medicinal herbal remedies and treatment to enhance the immunity is well known worldwide. Kerala must be promoted as a wellness destination where tourists go back with an enhanced immune system and with knowledge of how they can remain healthy and fit through natural methods. As far as domestic tourists are concerned, the tourism package can include a cure, while for the foreign tourists emphasis must be made on future prevention. It must be noted that there will be a forced departure from the existing model of portraying culture and tradition, to more of a health and wellness destination.
(Note: The above is not an invite to bring in Covid-19 affected persons to Kerala, but to offer Kerala as a destination where their immunity will be enhanced, for life, through appropriate wellness and medicinal herbal healing programs.)
- A sustained promotional campaign to convey the message that from the moment that they set foot on our soil, their health and wellness is in our hands. The trust and praise that has been accumulated so far, must be leveraged.
- Ayurveda, Homeopathy, Yoga and other herbal systems of medicine to be aggressively promoted. Kerala is the only destination in the world that offers these, packaged along with leisure.
- Promote Kerala as the destination for wellbeing of the mind, body and soul – Wholesome healing.
- Ensure that fool-proof methods and scientific techniques are employed in helping the guests achieve a level of satisfaction in the services rendered. It will be necessary to treat each and every guest as a separate entity, needing individual assessment and therapies, much like classic Ayurveda.
4. REDEFINING DESTINATIONS AND INFRASTRUCTURE
The hyper-activity of the Kerala government and its tourism industry are a blessing. Innovation is not new to Kerala. New and innovative methods of employing existing infrastructure and resources must be implemented aggressively.
- Promote houseboats in the middle of the backwaters as a destination by itself, for wholesome healing. They can also be used as a holiday quarantine for any suspected Covid-19 infection cases, as we have to assume that the virus is here to stay with humanity for a long period.
- Operational methods and procedures in house boats, especially with reference to waste management and disposal must be changed to include hygienic practices.
- Promote resorts and facilities in the middle of nature as destinations for longer periods, integrated with natural healing programs that will enhance the immunity of guests.
- Promote nature walks as part of a mind-body-soul package, which will expose the beauty of raw nature to the tourists, as part of enhanced eco-tourism offerings.
- Occupancy rules of establishments to be modified to ensure that the guests themselves dispose of the bed-linen and other properties of personal use safely, either in the garbage or in the laundry, as may be appropriate.
- Future developments in infrastructure to ensure that enhanced disinfection facilities are built into the plan well before plan approval. Existing infrastructure to be upgraded to establish disinfection protocols, through appropriate renovation of the property.
- Physicians must be made available physically close to all the tourism facilities in the State, with sufficient redundancy.
- Alcohol policy to be compulsorily modified at least for the tourism industry, to ensure satisfaction of the domestic and foreign tourists.
5. ENLIST SPECIALIST HOSPITALS
Specialist hospitals for emergency care, will need to be brought into the umbrella of Travel & Tourism, irrespective of whether it be for health or leisure. The availability of these facilities in close proximity forms a part of confidence building measures, to give a sense of comfort and safety to the in-bound tourists. This has to be reciprocatory, wherein the hospitals also promote the tourism facilities available in its proximity, both government and private, so that there is a multi-pronged awareness drive.
6. FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT (FDI)
A database of tourism players, who are disposing their properties, needs to be quickly compiled and offered for FDI through the automatic route. Apart from ensuring that the existing players get a good deal, it will usher in foreign exchange and with it bring in an inflow of foreign tourists immediately. This will obviously have an accelerating effect on the tourism industry. In addition to this, these newly managed properties will automatically and instantly fall into the collaborative scheme of activities, that is mentioned later in this document.
7. COLLABORATIVE TOURISM & OPTIMIZATION
Collaboration among the players in the industry is a must. This will include sharing of resources and business. For instance, if there are a total of 10 bookings, spread over 4 tourism facilities, certain adjustments must be made to ensure that all the 10 bookings are moved into one facility. Appropriate sharing of revenue and other additional features can be worked out by the individual players. It will boil down to a consortium type of arrangement, where they participate in a common activity and pool their resources for achieving a common goal and self-sustenance in the long run.
8. ROAD TRIPS
To minimize the physical interaction of tourists with others, road trips to short destinations may be emphasized upon. Apart from aiding social distancing, the car-rental companies stand to benefit from the boom in vehicle hire. The vehicles could be self-driven or chauffeur driven. In the long run, this will also boost the road infrastructure in the State.
9. HARNESS THE MEDIA
The mainstream and online media need to be convinced and their support enlisted, keeping the long-term vision of the tourism industry and hence, the media industry also.
News items, columns and articles need to be put out for international and domestic consumption on the new face of Kerala tourism, with an emphasis on immunity building, wellness and health. They need to effectively convey the readiness and preparedness of the Kerala tourism industry to adapt to the increasingly diverse needs of consumers.
Information needs to be put out that Kerala has new destinations, new packages and better facilities, with the well-known Indian tourism trademark of always offering tourists diversity and difference.
A multi-pronged approach needs to be employed by the media to educate the general public on the need for enhanced hygiene, adherence to basic health norms (context: wearing face masks, spitting on the streets, etc.), and a compulsory change in lifestyle both in public and indoors.
- EMPLOYABILITY and SKILL ENHANCEMENT
When health and leisure tourism are combined, emotion and empathy come into the picture, and hence everything boils down to memorable experiences for the tourist. The brushing up and development of soft skills for all the front players in the tourism and health industry must be taken up on a war footing, so that every tourist leaves with a smile. It must be remembered that a happy tourist transforms into a self-appointed ambassador of Kerala tourism. Training must also be provided to ensure social distancing and disinfection norms as per international standard.
11. UNITY PAYS
The government has to form a close working partnership with the private tourism players and take them into confidence when formulating a strategy. The private players have to be open to suggestions and criticism too, and need to fall in line with the broad agenda being formulated by the government. Differences, egos, narrow-mindedness and compulsions of political affiliations need to be set aside, as a single, unified, forceful thrust is always several times more effective than several tiny initiatives. There should be only one voice, and that has to be the gospel, at all road fairs and trade shows that the industry participates in.
12. ADDRESSING VISA ISSUES
The State government must facilitate all travel visa requirements on a fast track basis. This will include new visas, requests for extensions and modification of categories. There have been several instances where visa extension or modification have been denied to genuine cases of travellers even during the Covid-19 phase, and that has positively resulted in a small percentage of drop in revenue and goodwill.
13. DIVERSIFICATION OF SOURCE MARKETS
A multi-pronged approach needs to be taken by the industry to diversify and sensitize the source markets, with information that the market needs to hear. The available professionals and tools in the new age, need to be employed with the help of innovative minds.
14. IMMEDIATE OPPORTUNITY
With the State’s worst fears of a steep rise in cases coming true with the return of migrant workers from the Gulf countries, and immediate opportunity has been thrown up for instant partial revival of the industry. Returnees can be given the option of a quarantine in tourism or government facilities. The affluent among them can choose the houseboats and they can be put to use immediately. This will also offer the opportunity for a test-run of the efficiency of the available infrastructure.
A combination of leisure and health will alone triumph. In all likelihood, nature and wildlife will be preferred over monuments and history in the months ahead. So, the hills, the sea resorts, wildlife reserves and slightly isolated locations will win over crowded favourites of yore. When they are clubbed with the superior health and wellness offerings from the State of Kerala, the authors are convinced that the results of implementation will be an outright winner. This may benefit all tourism offerings built around outdoor activities.
We are extremely confident that if the measures are adopted by all stakeholders in all sincerity, a turnaround of the tourism sector is possible in as little as 3 months from when international travel resumes. We are optimistic that the oft-mentioned statement that the Travel & Tourism industry will take 2-3 years to get back on rails, can be defeated. It can also be the catalyst for all-round development in a very short time, especially with reference to the State of Kerala.
Apart from obvious economic benefits to the State and country as a whole, plenty of geo-political, geo-economic and geo-development benefits can be reaped. The potential to generate employment for several thousands, is not the least of allied benefits.
The authors of this paper urge all stakeholders, especially the Kerala State government to evaluate the recommendations mentioned, and based on their merit integrate them all into a master plan that will be executed in due earnest, for the quick revival of the Kerala Travel & Tourism industry. The authors hereby offer themselves for participation in any allied activity or venture.
REFERENCES & ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
- “Kerala Tourism: Tourism Statistics -2018 “. by Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala, published in 2019T.
- Mr. P K Babu, Chief Engineer, KTDC, Thiruvananthapuram
- Mr. Tony Thomas, Former CIO, Nissan
- Mr. Sajan Vargheese, CEO, Saj Holdings Pvt. Ltd, Kochi.
Authors: Dr. MAITHILY P R & SURESH MENON
Originally published : http://maithilypratheesh.