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Monday, Nov 22, 2004

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Untapped marvels of Malabar

K.G. Kumar

AS in most other spheres of development, the northern parts of Kerala - often collectively referred to as Malabar - has suffered from a lack of attention in the case of a potentially lucrative area of business - tourism.

Given the overemphasis on the central and southern parts of the State by Kerala's tourism planners, few travellers realise that the Malabar area has as much - if not more - to offer in terms of sights and experiences, often of the adventure variety.

Thus, apart from beaches and backwaters (yes, Malabar is home to some of Kerala's most scenic, yet unexplored backwaters, normally only associated with the Kuttanad area of central Kerala), the Malabar area abounds with forests and mountains that offer the perfect escape for the nature enthusiast and serious eco-traveller.

Many private hoteliers and tour operators have already cashed in on these unique advantages, setting up exotic treetop getaways, plantation theme resorts, jungle lodges and trekking trails. But most of them are small, single-owner units with limited rooms and capacity, catering to a niche and exclusive clientele. They neither have the international reach nor the market.

The potential of the region notwithstanding, even the initial government initiated tourism moves in Malabar have often floundered. Consider Bekal, once touted as the pioneering path-breaker for the travel and tourism trade in Malabar. Not long ago, the Bekal Resorts Development Corporation Ltd (BRDC) announced plans for three five-star resorts at Kappil, Uduma and Chembikkara, as well as the construction of 33 roads in the 190-odd acres that constitute the area of the Bekal project.

Of the six resort sites that are part of the Bekal project, one each was reportedly allotted to joint venture companies of the Taj and Oberoi groups. In addition, during the Global Investors Meet held on Kochi in 2003, the Leela group had also expressed interest in setting up a hotel in Bekal. In fact, Captain Krishnan Nair of LeelaVenture was among the first to moot a hotel project in Bekal as far back as the late 1980s.

Yet, despite all these ambitious pronouncements, the plain fact is that none of these projects is anywhere near fruition. Apart from the conventional roadblocks of capital and financing requirements, the other significant dampener is the lack of good transportation infrastructure, specifically high-class airports of international standards. The nearest airport is Kochi - way too far from the heart of Malabar - while the ones at Bangalore and Karippur, near Kozhikode, are both overstretched and far from optimal in performance.

The most recent to enter the fray is the CGH Earth group, owners of properties in Kumarakom and Thekkady.

And, as the tourism industry captains have been saying, no tourist comes for a single experience, rather for a variety of experiences. Sooner rather than later, the plantation experience of Nelliampathy and the forests and wildlife of Wayanad will come into the tourist agenda.

But as these moves are poised to give a fillip to tourism in Malabar, and inspire other private groups and individuals to follow suit with similar and more innovative products, the Damocles sword of infrastructure still hangs over tourism projects in Malabar.

That would be a pity for the State and even more so for the industrially stagnant Malabar. Beautiful destinations, after all, deserve tender, loving care.

The writer can be contacted at

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Untapped marvels of Malabar

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