Kerala Travel Mart: Caravans, river lodges among ideas to revive tourism in the state

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The next Champions Boat League is slated for November 2022.

A row of brightly coloured caravans is parked across an empty dock at the Kochi port in the human-made, nearly century-old Willingdon Island in Kerala’s backwaters. Equipped with beds and baths, these vehicles are the new houseboats in ‘God’s Own Country’ where tour operators are shaping fresh ideas to cater to travel during the pandemic.

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“Today’s travellers don’t want to go to crowded places,” says Riyaz U.C., owner of Spiceland Holidays which operates the new caravans in Kerala. Instead, moving by a caravan allows visitors to remain within their groups while going from one caravan park to another, thus steering clear of busy destinations bristling with people. Whether self-driven or chauffeur-driven, a caravan has its rules dictated by the choices of the traveller, and fitting into the needs of the times.

Also called motor home, caravans come with a living room, pantry, two bunk beds and a bathroom spacious enough for a four-member group or family. “A caravan is a complete home-to-home travel package,” says Vinay Luthra, founder of Lux Camper, an affordable caravan service eyeing the new market for safe travel in the country.

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A bouquet of new tourism products like caravans, work vacations, boutique stays, river lodges and even a Champions Boat League modelled on the Indian Premier League reflect the choices of the traveller in, what tourism industry professionals call, the “new normal”. Taking place after a gap of four years, the biennial Kerala Travel Market (May 5-8) is attended by 1,500 buyers from 69 countries. A whopping 55,000 buyer-seller meetings have been scheduled during the four-day event, the largest travel trade meet in India.

#Caravans, #champions boat league, #covid impact, #kerala, #kerala backwaters, homestays, tourism, travel mart, #moksha stories kerala, #river lodges
At the Kerala Travel Market (May 5-8, 2022).

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For the anxious traveller

Kerala’s additional chief secretary Venu V., who has led the state tourism department in various stints during the past two decades, says tour operators must equip themselves to address the “anxious traveller” who needs reassurance as life is bouncing back from a crushing Covid-19 pandemic. “Trips will become increasingly personalised and people will travel in small groups to relatively smaller destinations,” he adds.

The tourism industry, which is vital to jobs and growth in several states like Kerala, Goa and Rajasthan, is eager to welcome travellers back with packages vastly different from pre-pandemic offers. Kerala, which received 35 domestic tourists and two international tourists every minute in 2019, has seen its fortunes fall in the last two years. The state’s much-admired public-private participation in the tourism industry, with such examples as the private sector-led Kerala Travel Mart and a hugely successful sustainable tourism, will be keenly watched by tourism boards and bodies across the country reeling from the effects of the pandemic.

Though caravans are nothing new in the country, the safe and personalised mode is expected to make them a winner this time after having failed to make a footing in the past. “The caravans may not have done well before, but this time it will be different,” says V.R. Krishna Teja, director, Kerala Tourism. “Most of the beautiful places in Kerala are still unexplored. There are no resorts in these places and caravan parks are the only way to help visitors experience something they haven’t before,” adds Teja, who is working with private caravan operators to gain quick ground for the initiative.

The government has already built a caravan park in the popular Vagamon hill station near Munnar with facilities like kitchen, rest rooms and parking. Another four are scheduled to be ready by June-end. According to the state tourism department, the government has received applications from the private sector for buying 259 caravans and building 147 caravan parks. The department offers a 15 per cent subsidy for buying caravans.

#Caravans, #champions boat league, #covid impact, #kerala, #kerala backwaters, homestays, tourism, travel mart, #moksha stories kerala, #river lodges
The Kerala tourism department aims to promote budget and luxury caravans for personalised travel.

Battle of the Backwaters

Kerala’s tourism industry also knows the state’s most visual attraction after Kathakali, the eye-catching snake boats in the backwaters, could put tourism revival on cruise control. The Champions Boat League is thus a government-run event to draw domestic and international visitors. “Snake boat race is a spectacular game that has social, cultural, economic and tourism value,” explains Teja. Slated for November, the boat league, first held in 2019, will have nine teams competing over 12 weeks for its Rs 6-crore prize in 12 venues across the state.

River lodges that provide the peace and quiet for a long stay for work or recuperation and bungalows in the middle of tea plantations in Munnar and Wayanad with tea tasting sessions are among the new products put on a traveller’s platter. The Periyar River Lodge, one such river lodge developed by the One Earth Properties, is located on the banks of the state’s second longest river in Thattekad, about 60 km from Kochi, and lies next to the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. Built on a rubber plantation, the lodge sits across a forest. “We launched the river lodge in January this year,” says One Earth Properties managing director Eldho Kuruvilla.

The Kochi-based Marvel Tours recently launched two new products – a granary stay and a luxury stay – to tap into the new possibilities of travel. The granary stay in sprawling properties by rubber and tea plantations and backwaters include activities like fishing, jeep safari, cycle tours and tea tasting. “The pandemic made us stop, rethink, discover and build new products,” says the company’s founder and CEO, Sejoe Jose.

Moksha Stories, another new entrant to the tourism sector in Kerala, aims to link travellers with the community through stories built in its travel packages. “Our products are stories about artisans and craftspeople from local communities,” says Moksha Stories co-founder Sreejith P., a former banker. Moksha Stories has five homestays in Kerala’s Malabar region where its curated travel packages help visitors meet the “local heroes”. “A toddy tapper is an important part of the local economy in Kerala, but never visible to people,” he says. “No longer.”

#Caravans, #champions boat league, #covid impact, #kerala, #kerala backwaters, homestays, tourism, travel mart, #moksha stories kerala, #river lodges
Among the new tourism products is a story-based travel package linking “local heroes” like the toddy tapper (pictured here) with visitors.

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