A whole paradigm shift was in evidence at the four-day Kerala Travel Mart that just concluded in Kochi. Foreign buyers and tour operators catering to international tourists were taken aback when Indian sellers were surprisingly not willing to give the usual heavy discounts.

“Indian hotels have tasted success with domestic travellers during the pandemic and are playing tough about giving us the traditional discounts for foreign groups,” complained one tour operator. 

The mega travel trade exhibition — which hosted 55,000 buyer-seller meetings and was attended by 1,500 buyers from 69 countries — witnessed some frenzied networking. The Kerala government had gone all out with aggressive new pitches to lure the post-pandemic traveller to the State, including caravan safaris, adventure tourism, responsible tourism, an IPL-style boat race tournament, long-stay workation packages and wellness offerings. It was also promoting new destinations in the less visited northern region.

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VR Krishna Teja, Director Tourism, Kerala, said one thing that had changed during the pandemic was that domestic travellers who typically came to the State only for a three to four day visit were now lengthening the duration of the stay to do seven or 14-day Ayurveda packages.

Michael Dominic, CEO of CGH Earth, said earlier the 14-day wellness packages of the group were mostly availed by international travellers, but now Indians are booking it. “The Indian wallet is now ready for high-end wellness. Domestic travellers are booking in good numbers,” he said.

This augurs well for Kerala, which in the past has not ranked high among Indian States as a preferred destination by domestic visitors (Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu are top two). In 2019, Kerala got 11.8 lakh foreign tourists, which dipped to 3.4 lakh in the pandemic years. Given the current geopolitical situation playing out in Russia and Ukraine, and with Europe’s economy constrained, the State was trying to woo foreign tourists from other regions. Renato Martin, a business delegate from Brazil, said he was a first-time visitor to KTM and usually took tour packages to north India but he was interested to see Kerala’s offerings.

Responsible Tourism

Meanwhile, the State government’s pitch of responsible tourism resonated well with several buyers from abroad. “There has been a big shift in what travellers want post pandemic. They want more products connected to nature and are concerned about ethical tourism,” said Eric R. Sinaya, CEO of Morahols, a travel company from Malaysia.

Kerala government officials said the State was well placed to cater to this demand. K Rupeshkumar, State Coordinator for the Responsible Tourism Mission, said its new initiative STREET (Sustainable, Tangible, Responsible, Experiential, Ethnic, Tourism Hubs) is based on UNWTO’s new tourism concept ‘Tourism for Inclusive Growth’.

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“In Experiential Tourism, tourists are experiencing a particular place meaningfully by engaging with its culture, lifestyle, food and environment. The core of this concept is interaction with local community and experiencing the social and cultural set up of a society,” he said.

Krishna Teja also highlighted how caravan tourism left a lower carbon footprint as at virgin destinations there was no need to build infrastructure like hotels. All you needed was a camping ground.