By Rajesh Abraham | Express News Service | 07th February 2018

KOCHI: In a big blow to Kerala’s tourism sector, a new research has found most claims by the state government that the sector constitutes 10 per cent of the state’s GDP and it contributes 23.5 per cent of the employment are inflated.The Kochi-based Centre for Public Policy Research’s (CPPR) study titled ‘Kerala Tourism – The Role of the Government and Economic Impacts’ by its research consultant Leskhmi R Nair and chairman D Dhanuraj also criticised the government for spending significant amount of money on tourism services run by it even though it was found to be “highly unsuccessful and ineffective”.

The study further showed the government policies were investor-friendly on paper, but were actually harming the them rather than promoting them.“Kerala’s international tourism sustains on visitors from a few countries while domestic tourism is dependent on those from within the state despite the government’s huge spending on promotion. The claims of economic advantages are based on unreliable statistics, along with an all-inclusive definition of tourists, which don’t come under the realm of the state’s tourism policy,” said the study.

It said Kerala tourism won several national and international recognitions mainly due to the region’s scenic beauty and state’s responsible tourism projects. Based on the tourism policy documents of the Central and state governments, the Kerala tourism model is acclaimed as one of the most liberalised, with the private sector leading the development and the state acting as a facilitator rather than a regulator.“Kerala Government’s tourism expenditure is one among the highest in the country,” the study said.However, the study findings have met with severe criticism from industry veterans.

Abraham George, former Kerala Travel Mart Society president and CMD of Intersight Tours & Travels, a leading agency, said, “The Kerala government’s spending on tourism is pittance compared to states like Karnataka, Gujarat and even Bihar, which is not even a major tourist destination,” he said. Kerala’s marketing expenditure last year was just `40-50 crore while Karnataka spends on an average more than `400 crore. Even Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh,  which are not so-popular destinations, spend over `300 crore each, he said. E M Najeeb, chairman of ATE Group, another travel firm, said, “Kerala Government relies on a whole set of statistics and data including findings from World Travel and Tourism Council. Undermining such authentic study without any valid proof can’t be accepted.”

The CPPR study said despite the government’s significant claims regarding tourism marketing and the huge spending on it — 20 per cent of the total amount — nationality-wise statistics on foreign tourist arrivals (FTAs) from the Department of Tourism show the foreign tourism earnings are dependent on some nations specifically. It said the majority of FTAs in Kerala are consistently from the US, UK, certain other European nations and Saudi Arabia, despite the widespread marketing activities in almost all countries, including in Latin America and South Asia, like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and South East Asian, East Asian and Middle East countries. Lekshmi Nair, who led the study, told Express the data relied on ‘Form C’, which gives the details of the residing foreigner in a hotel/hospital, etc.

“My point is we’ve immense natural potential. But, if you look at the data of the FTA, we lag behind,” she said over phone from the US. As per her data, Kerala’s total plan expenditure on tourism increased from `86.3 crore in 2006–07 to `230.45 crore in 2014-15, one of the highest spending by a state in tourism in India. Despite this, the state occupies only the seventh position among the top 10 preferred destination states in India.

“The position has been stable for the past many years. This shows the ineffectiveness of the marketing activities of Kerala tourism, which is mainly done by the state government. While it can be argued that Kerala tourism aims at attracting high-spending tourists and not mass tourism, it’s evident that our tourist destinations are not able to attract luxury tourists with high spending power,” she said. The CPPR study said though the government policies were harming the investors. “The claims of the economic advantages of tourism are based on unreliable statistics, along with an all-inclusive definition of tourists, which do not come under the realm of the state’s tourism policy,” said CPPR.

The study stressed the need for the government to act as a facilitator by providing the basic infrastructure conducive for tourism and allow the private sector to play the lead role in tourism promotion and development. Tourism promotion and marketing should be the responsibility of the private sector, which will help in implementing innovative marketing methods for attracting international tourists from more countries and domestic tourists from other states, it said.

This will help in exploiting the natural potential of Kerala tourism rather than placing artificial constraints on tourism development in the state through government interventions. The study demanded a reliable procedure for collating the tourist database in the state that distinguishes tourists based on the type of visa and purpose of visit. The economic impacts of tourism should be analysed using this database for getting a reliable picture in this regard.

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