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Tuesday, December 15

Superbrand Kerala

The folks up there in Park View need some serious pat on the back for the job well done in selling the Superbrand Kerala to the whole world.

Kerala pipped the iconic Taj Mahal, the symbol of the India for billions, to take the spot behind Rajasthan as the country's top dream destinations. The survey, which appeared in the November edition of the Traveler Magazine was conducted by the National Geographic Society's Center for Sustainable Destinations. Of the 133 global locales surveyed, Kerala procured a stupefying 23rd spot while the Taj came 30th. Rajasthan topped among the Indian destinations at rank #19.

Kerala Tourism Dept immediately cashed in on the feat and rolled out their ad campaign in style, and in no time after the NatGeo announcement!

From the famed sun-kissed shores of Kovalam and Varkala, history and enigma of Fort Cochin and the quaint hillside hide-aways of Munnar, the USP of Kerala Tourism has quietly shifted to its best kept secret: the backwaters. Kumarakam, Ashtamudi, Kappil et al have become household names within the country, and also across the oceans.The Traveler recognition is received for the tranquil charm the backwaters of Kerala and the way business is done in the state.

Kerala was a touch late to realize its potential but now the giant is fully awake, agile and kicking ass! The "God's own country" slogan, borrowed with thanks from the Newzealander's, opened the sluice-gates for Tourism revolution in Kerala and now it is a top-drawer Superbrand of India, so illustrious that it has now overtaken the Taj! is a trailblazer, in that they manage to market anything and everything in Kerala. Even the monsoon... Edavapathi and Thulavarsham , coupled with Ayurveda, were sold to the rain-fed up and sun-loving souls of Western Europe through some ingenious marketing.. Talk about selling a refrigerator to the Eskimos! Monsoon Tourism has caught the attention of the whole country. This has virtually led to the extension of the tourism season into the turbulent months when things were rather idle.

Monsoon is rejuvenation time, say Tourism Kerala, for they've found a peerless way to trade our rains to the honeymooners! Rain, storm and the familiar bollywood cliche, ah! Who needs a king-size waterbed? Love is in the air, err, the outside air... ;)

Kerala owns some pretty robust trademarks, and the fact of the matter is you needn't sweat out like any marketing executive to sell the brand. Just be honest... Last spring, I had a casual chat with a relative of one of my patients, an Irish-German, who was just back from high up in the Himalayas, after a fortnight of yoga-meditation and chores. She was talking about Ladakh being so distinguished from the common Indian stereotype. Kerala, inevitably sprung up during our chat and I didn't have to fabricate a bit to convince her that my home-state is a place worth visiting.

Didn't National Geographic Channel say something similar a few years back? Well, I just had to repeat it to her. And she is flying in this month to experience the one among the 50 destinations to see before you die :-)

Kerala has managed to market itself better than any other state in India. Even the Incredible India campaign  lagged behind the Kerala brand for a while but some buzz marketing techniques gave the spring boots to the Incredible !ndia guys. Kerala still relies on road shows, travel meets and so on, even we're the first state to approach Google for search and banner advertisements. Smart thinkers you got there Kodiyeri, well I'm not talking about your Home Dept.

Still an Incerdible !ndia Campaign will have direct and spill-over benefits for us; afterall Kerala, Goa, Rajasthan and the Taj are the major selling propositions of Incredible India. Kerala remains one of the heavily searched items on the net and the Kerala Tourism website one of the most frequented. I did a Siteanalytics comparison on the 3 most popular tourism websites of India and here is the result.

Click on the image for a bigger graph

Kerala website attracts some robust traffic but still the ground numbers w.r.t. tourist arrivals stay with Rajasthan. May be we can exchange some brownie points with our North Indian counterparts but I feel the geographical advantages surely hand them the initiative. Taking nothing away from the palaces, lakes, forts and heritage of Jaipur, Udaipur or Bikaner but Rajasthan's close proximity to a major Int'l Gateway like New Delhi is a definite advantage. Kerala still depends on the charter carriers for direct air-link. Western tourists would ideally want a direct connection and they tend to avoid long, bothersome transits, especially via Mumbai/ Delhi to reach Kerala. Our direct competitors to the beach tourism, the South East Asian nations have direct air connections to major US/European destinations and this is a major fillip.

A tourist train akin to the Palace on Wheels or the Golden Chariot is sure to provide a major boost to the pan-Kerala expansion of tourism industry. Currently int'l tourism is mostly confined to Travancore-Cochin areas and a luxury tourist train could yield rich dividends for the whole state.

Nature is not the only selling point of Kerala. The authorities are trying hard to tap the multi-billion dollar Health Tourism sector and the coming decade is sure to see this concept taking wings. The Medical Tourism is not just limited to Ayurveda, modern state-of-the-art hospitals like KIMS and Lakeshore Hospital are upgrading themselves to cater to this new generation of consumers.

Initiatives by the Govt to promote home stays and eco-tourism have taken the benefits of the industry further down to masses. Thoughtful planning has made sure that tourism hasn't degraded into a something which threatens our culture and practices. We still could make the 'spirits' rise, without giving an opportunity for the traditional-fanatics to raise their voice.

Now since the traditional avenues are busy enough, the Dept. of Tourism has trod into some very serious territories to make some very serious cash: to turn Kerala into a Cruise Destination. Already the Jewel of the Kerala crown, the Cochin Port is a port-of-call to may Int'l Cruise ships. The Govt has recognized the opportunity this kind of aristocratic tourism could bring to the state. Plans are being chalked out for an International Cruise Terminal cum Public Plaza on Bolghatty Island to cater to the demands of this new and elite breed of tourists. If things go according to plan, then we may well create a desi Miami out of our own Cochin.

Hi-profile events like the Volvo Ocean Race, which had a stopover in Cochin last winter has been another augmentation for the tourism industry. Events like the Kerala Travel Mart, a B2B event organized by the Govt of Kerala has also become a torch-bearer. Cultural festivals like Trichur Pooram, the International Film Festival in Trivandrum which is gaining prominence with every passing year, the Tourism Week celebrations in conjecture with Onam has all been aiding the build of the Kerala Superbrand.

Meanwhile the beaches still remain pristine inspite of severe backlash for this kind of destinations the world over, courtesy the economic downturn. Kovalam, Varkala and co has got some serious competition from the SE Asian countries which have gone a few miles ahead as themed beach destinations. Sadly our Tourism Dept is lacks innovation here, which is slowly killing the beach-based tourism. The glaring lack of facilities at our beach destinations is always a point of fretting for the media, but nothing has changed. The black-tinged sands of Kovalam and the umpteen luxury resorts around it still act as a powerful magnet and still shows off the numbers in the state. But neglecting our renowned locales may turn out to be the act of killing the goose laying the golden eggs.

A full fledged golf-resort is something which we could look into, to remain head-to-head with Thailand and co. While in 2-3 years time, almost all the major hospitality giants will have their properties in Kerala, there are still no signs of such themed resorts surfacing.

Another effort is to promote the MICE tourism (Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions) in the state which has been performing extremely well. The city of Cochin is a popular center in India for conferences of both National and Int'l varieties. During big events such as the Cardiology Society of India meet, star-rated properties all the way from Alappuza to Trichur is booked out. Such events also provide a major fillip to the retail businesses apart from touching the whole arm of tourism/travel associates like conducted-tour agencies.

GoK has taken measures to spread out the events across the state. The ICCC in Akkulam is going to be a massive venture which will put Trivandrum firmly on the MICE map. Presently, the Rajiv Gandhi Convention Center in Kovalam is the main arena for MICE events in the capital.

The current Govt has taken some quick solid efforts to weave Malabar into this tourism fabric.The Malabar tourism circuit consisting of beaches, backwaters and hill resorts are under contention. Lack of adequate quality hotel keys is one gray area, but with ambitious projects like the Bekkal the planners hope to find a solution to it. Who knows, Malabar may be the emerald waiting to be revealed on our crown, afterall its all a win-win situation.

This is one major feature of all Kerala cities. A beach destination, hill resort, backwater haven or a forest get-away;  nothing is more than a short hop from our major cities. You can have the best of all worlds in a whirlwind tour and this is one area where Kerala pips its contenders. The congested and badly laid out urban centers and environmental neglect are some of the downturns here, but that's nothing exclusive to Kerala ;)

But yes, the outstretched hands, robbed childhoods, garbage-dumped avenues, violated environment, all could be an embarrassment for India's showcase state. Similarly, a dishonest autowallah, a rude policeman, an impolite receptionist or a localite with an indecent gaze could do as much or more damage.

Still, Kerala sells! At the end of the day that's what matters more. And our Tourism Dept is cutting no corners when marketing out state, urging us all to keep our doors and hearts open for our distinguished guests! Its Superbrand Kerala!!

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