Central tourism minister KJ Alphons with EM Najeeb at KTM 2018

Concerted efforts by tourism stakeholders in the state, backed by the state and central government, was bringing tourism back to normalcy in the ‘God’s Own Country,’ asserted EM Najeeb, Chairman Airtravel Enterprises and SVP, IATO in an exclusive interview. He also noted that the recently concluded KTM had played a crucial role in hammering the message across that Kerala was open for business and tourism. Excerpts from the interview:

The fateful day of 8th of August saw an abnormally high rainfall in the southern state of Kerala, triggering massive landslides and floods, causing an unprecedented natural calamity. The relentless rain battered the coastal state, resulting in a mass displacement of people, several deaths and the loss of property in tune of thousands of crores. The situation cut a sorry figure for Kerala, reeling under the disaster. Tourism, naturally, took a hit, and reflected in the spate of cancellations, hurting local businesses. Even by conservative estimates, three months of business was lost for good. Naysayers predicted a decade of rehabilitation before Kerala’s tourism could regain its lost glory. The road to recovery, however, was underway much faster than previously expected, said EM Najeeb, Chairman & MD, Airtravel Enterprises. (EM Najeeb is also the senior Vice President of IATO and is a critical observer of tourism, nationally and in the state)

Senior dignitaries share the dais with minister KJ Alphons

He conceded that the flood situation was the “most unexpected” and had inflicted an “unimaginable pain and trauma” to the people in the state. However, lauding the collective efforts to bring the industry back on its feet, he suggested that it had been an “effort by the industry, for the industry, supported by district administrations, the state and central government.” Local stakeholders, in key tourist centres, combined their might to rescue stranded people. Houseboats were thrown open to accommodate people in Alleppey, he said. “We have contributed for rescue and rebuilding and have pooled in resources to provide relief material, besides providing financial assistance,” he detailed. “26 rafts were used to save over 600 people. A number of boat owners provided their boats for transportation of relief material and rescue of passengers,” he added.

With a semblance of normalcy back in the state, Kerala state tourism department took a spirited stance, attending every travel trade show, assuring stakeholders that the ‘God’s Own Country’ was open for tourism and hospitality. “Social media and online outreach have been crucial in reaching out to tourists, he said, adding that advertisement like the one by Samsonite with the hashtag KeralaIsOpen had gone viral and played an important role in assuaging concerns.

Members of the Kerala Travel Mart committee pose for the shutterbugs

He outlined imminent concerns, suggesting that restoring connectivity, primarily air-connectivity was the most pressing concern for the state tourism stakeholders. “Hotels and resorts were damaged in the floods. They have been opened after restoration,” EM Najeeb mentioned.  

A bigger and better KTM

With 600 international and 1100 domestic buyers, the recently concluded Kerala Travel Mart (KTM) was the best ever in the series, EM Najeeb noted. He said that the success of KTM had given tremendous confidence to local stakeholders and expressed happiness over the scope and extent of the undertaking, adding that over 350 domestic exhibitors and representatives from 60 countries were in attendance. “The philosophy of KTM has been to undertake a better KTM than the previous one. That is the way we function,” he elucidated. He stressed that lessons were learnt from drawbacks, if any, to improve the visitor experience and provide excellent value for money to exhibitors.

The recently concluded KTM 2018 saw a robust participation from foreign countries.

Interestingly, some 400 delegates at KTM were taken to seven different locations in the state for FAM trips. “The idea was to convey the message that the floods are behind us and we are open for business and tourism,” he said.

He expressed confidence in the revival of tourism in the state, forecasting that “as much as 90 per cent of business” was going to come back by the end of the season. “We hope to recover by the end of the season,” he said. When asked whether the change in the traveller’s sentiment was visible on the ground, he shared that they had managed to convince customers to rebook their cancelled itineraries. “We have convinced travellers flying in from Australia. Group travellers have started coming in too,” he noted.