Sunday, November 11, 2007

Tourism Rediscovered In God's Own Country

On November 1st, Kerala celebrated its 51st year of formation. And very aptly, the people of Kerala [at least the section that calls themselves BJP supporters - another party that has supports beyond the minimum number of people required to call a bandh/ strike that can disrupt life in Kerala and bring the state to a standstill - for the uninitiated, that magic figure is five (5)].

I happened to be in Kerala on that special day and observed how the state and its people were transforming and "progressing" with all these bandhs and shutdowns. One of the most important indicators of this transformation was the innovation the people have shown to survive these bandhs. Almost every household now has a collection of display boards made specially for their vehicles so that they can move around unharmed. It could indicate one of the following: "Vivaham", Ambulance, Police, Airport, Milk, or a Black flag. Any of these will most likely see you get to your destination without much harm. (DOC Tip for Readers: If at all possible, use the "Vivaham" (marriage/ wedding) sign - This is the Ace card as far as Kerala is concerned. If you are part of the wedding industry, all parties will welcome you and let you pass, no matter what the political agenda is.)

Bandhs are becoming so common in Kerala, that even tourists visiting the state carry their own "vivaham" board. Even Living Planet and other travel guides are recommending the same. Probably thats one reason why we are witnessing more foreigners getting married in Kerala.

Tourism Minister was not too much off the mark when he quipped last year that Kerala should open itself to "Bandh Tourism", and according to him more and more foreigners are visiting Kerala only to witness the bandhs and hartals. Inspired by his own discovery, he has not done much to promote any conventional tourist infrastructure.

Not to be left behind, other ministers and government officials have done their bit to promote tourism in their own ways.

CM is the biggest contributor to the tourism industry, beating the nearest competitor, the Leela Kempinski group, by a huge margin. It is said that people are visiting Kerala by the hordes to learn his gestures and humor (if I may use the word). He is now a close competition to George Bush, President of USA, as the leading political-cartoon character of the world. Apparently, yesterdays press-conference helped him up his ratings substantially when he said "Nature gives us rains. We should accept it and bear the difficulties caused. If the water comes in, find a way to get it out'' . This was in response to the havoc rains are causing to the state, and the pathetic roads and drainage systems in the state.

With a small collaboration, and a little help from the rains, the Water Resources Ministry and the Public Works Ministry have claimed that they have fulfilled their responsibilities in promoting tourism with the much-awaited Inland Waterway project. Since the actual project involved investments, planning, science etc, they decided to take an easier route to completion. The phase I, they believe will help both the water authority and the surface transport authority.

Inland Waterway Project, Phase I - Both surface and water transport feasible
- Pic Courtesy: Cosmet Surgeon via email

But they are more thrilled about the Phase II of the project, which they believe will help the common man as well as the Tourism industry. Phase II is already implemented at a few regions (see pic below), and will be extended to the entire length of the state before the end of this Government's term.

Inland Waterway Project, Phase II to benefit common man
- Pic Courtesy: Cosmet Surgeon via email

The only hindrance to the execution of the phase II they say is a clearance from the Fisheries Ministry. Although the central government has questioned they need for such a project, the government said it has decided to proceed with the implementation since its in the interest of the common man.

The State Health Ministry, in line with the Health Tourism plans of the Indian Government, also contributed significantly to the industry. Recent epidemics and disruptions in various health programs have resulted in a surge of visitors from other states and countries, especially organizations like the WHO, Union Health Ministry, etc. As long as people visit the state, does it matter why or for what?

The only underperformer has been the Education Ministry. With just controversies (ISRO, IIT, IISc, private medical colleges,..what not!), scams, campus murders (we have already forgotten the recent murders), and strikes and shutdowns in colleges and schools, more and more parents are sending their children out of the state. Its almost similar to the situation in the 60s and 70s, when Keralites went to "Gelf" to earn a living and escape from the horrors in Kerala. We got through the 80s and 90s solely on the Gelf money. Now its the turn of Bangalore and Chennai and Coimbatore money to get us through the 2010s and 2020s. Until then we have a fledgling Tourism Industry.

Welcome to God's Own Country. Dont forget your "vivaham" board!
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