God’s Own Country has a completely different pitch and proposition for the post-pandemic traveller. Since the start of the year, Kerala has been on a marketing and advertising blitzkrieg to show that the State is not just Ayurveda, beaches and backwaters. Its re-focussed new ad campaigns “Change of Air” and “Travel for Good” lay out the welcome mat for the domestic visitor and the millennial traveller, in contrast to the stirring brand films of yore “Your Moment is Waiting” and “Human by Nature” that were aimed more at the global traveller.

Caravan tourism, adventure tourism and responsible tourism are three big new products the State has unveiled post-pandemic even as it continues to promote ecotourism, cultural tourism, wellness tourism and leisure travel.

In the last couple of months, VR Krishna Teja, Director of Kerala Tourism, has been on overdrive, personally doing roadshows in various Indian cities, showcasing the attractions of Kerala to domestic buyers. He has already pushed Kerala’s case in five cities and a total of 20 cities are on his itinerary. Of course, global travellers are not ignored either — so the Kerala proposition has been to Spain, Italy, England and Dubai too.

Revival campaigns

At these roadshows and at the recently concluded Kerala Travel Mart in Kochi, attended by 1,500 delegates (300 of them international), Teja kicked off his presentations with the State’s two big ad campaigns created post Covid-19 — “Change of Air” and “Travel for Good” as well as a film promoting caravan tourism.

A change of air: People want open spaces and pure air

A change of air: People want open spaces and pure air

Explains Shelton Pinheiro, Executive Creative Director, Stark Communications, the agency behind the campaigns. “There was a shift towards the domestic customer in our campaigns post-pandemic. One of the insights we gathered was the big concern for air. People wanted to travel to wide, open spaces and breathe in pure air. This also played into the discourse on air pollution that many cities in India were facing.”

In the ad, we see a concerned mother instructing her daughter not to touch things as the family heads for a vacation. As they reach Kerala and travel into the hills and greens, we see her worry disappear even as the tagline — A Change of Air, plays. A clever pun on doctor’s prescription and the changed climate.

“Earlier too, Kerala had an anti-urban kind of perception in the mind of the domestic traveler who viewed the State as a green escape. We accentuated that with the positive air imagery,” explains Pinheiro.

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The second component, says Pinheiro, was they discovered that a younger, more active audience was beginning to visit Kerala and seek different things. “This audience, we found, took pleasure in the journey and not the destination.” For this audience, the film campaign that took root was “Travel for Good”.

“We were encouraging people to get out and travel. The message being that travel is good for you and it’s good for the local communities in the land you come to.”

As Pinheiro points out, while the international traveller arrives in particular seasons, the domestic visitor is an all-year visitor.

As these insights surfaced and realisation dawned that domestic tourism will be the bedrock of revival, Kerala began readying new products focussed on smaller groups that would prefer to travel in open spaces. And thus, caravan tourism. Caravans were the cynosure of all eyes at the Kerala Travel Mart with the motor homes placed strategically at the entrance. There was the luxurious Bharat Benz caravan, with power managed sofas, two double-beds, bathroom, kitchen, inverter and generator and more economical camper homes on Isuzu pickup vehicles, which had a bedroom on the roof of the vehicle.

The case for caravans: At KTM, camper homes were on display

The case for caravans: At KTM, camper homes were on display

Two caravan parks are already operational in the State, and according to Teja, five more will be ready in the course of the next month. “We invited registrations for the caravan scheme from tour operators and 259 people have shown interest to run over 400 caravans and 103 have shown interest in constructing caravan parks,” said Teja.

The State’s aggressive promotion spree is not surprising. In 2019, tourism contributed nearly 12 per cent to Kerala’s GDP and the State government was trying to increase it to 15 per cent. But two years of pandemic reduced tourist traffic to a trickle in the State, with unofficial estimates pegging losses at over ₹35,000 crore. In 2019 the revenue from tourism was over ₹45,000 crore and plunged to ₹11,000 crore in 2020.

A calendar of events

According to Teja, the way to draw in the domestic traveler is also through a full calendar of exciting events and the State is packing every month with festivals and cultural shows. The Champions Boat Race, an IPL-style sporty boat race, is being pushed as a big tourist attraction as is the artsy Kochi Biennale. There is a kayaking festival in northern Kerala, Vettukadu feast near Thiruvananthapuram, the Beypore water fest in Kozhikode and a host of other events, big and small, to draw the experience-seeking traveler.

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At the Kerala Travel Mart, which witnessed frenzied networking, the State’s ministers and bureaucrats – former and current – were seen in force, pitching in to sell God’s Own Country. K Jayakumar, former Kerala Chief Secretary during a session at KTM, brought out the change imperative when he said, “Not only do the initial trends in post-pandemic travel point to a need for altered marketing strategy, the tourism products themselves have to match the perception about destinations.”

One has to wait and see how the new products take off. But as the event concluded, with 55,000 meetings held between buyers and sellers, a satisfied VR Krishna Teja looked back and said, “The mart has sent out a message that Kerala is fully ready.”