Bekal beckons, again

Illustraion for The Hindu

Illustraion for The Hindu  


Focus being shifted from leisure to experiential tourism to attract visitors in small and medium segments

Travel has fascinated humans, always. People, wherever they are, will continue to backpack for the next destination. And, Kerala is likely to retain its place among the top destinations across the globe, the devastating floods of two successive years notwithstanding.

Now, bring our part of the region into focus. Bekal is one of the must-see spots in the State. The coastal town and its magnificent 17th century fort shot to fame after the release of Mani Ratnam’s 1995 film Bombay. Some sequences of the film were shot there. It was three years earlier, in fact, that the Central government had declared Bekal as a special tourism area. ‘Bekal Beckons’ was the mantra then. The place was destined to be developed into an international beach destination. For, the acclaimed charm of the Bekal beaches isn’t smoke and mirrors.

Turn the clock back 24 years. The formation of the Bekal Resorts Development Corporation (BRDC) by the State government in 1995 gave wing to hopes and projections. Nearly a quarter of a century later, prospects of tourism development in the region are as promising, no doubt. But there is a catch. Trends keep changing in tourism, for better or worse. In the 1990s, tourism meant leisure tourism. Period. Hence the word ‘resorts’ in BRDC and Tourist Resorts (Kerala) Limited (TRKL), which was started in 1989.

Today people travel to tourism destinations not just for leisure. Holidaying is also seen as an occasion for soul-searching. Perhaps, the development of tourism infrastructure (read resorts) plays a lesser role in attracting tourists in pursuit of inner happiness.

Consider the following facts. BRDC acquired 235 acres in different panchayats of the project area for developing five plots as resort sites. Two resorts developed on the plots leased out by BRDC — the Taj group and the LaLit — started operation in 2011. In another property, a hotelier almost finished his 150-room hotel and then stopped work, purportedly due to financial problems. Similarly, resorts construction in the two remaining properties by two Kerala-based groups has been left incomplete.

Would these groups have left their projects incomplete had tourists, especially those from abroad, flocked to Bekal? Unlikely. The fact is the inflow of foreign tourists to Kasaragod has not gone through the ceiling since 2011. During 2011 and 2015, their number was in the range of 2,000 and 3,000. It fell to 1,823 in 2016 and 1,115 in 2017. According to Tourism Department statistics, in 2018, there was 269% growth in the arrival of foreign tourists in the district from the previous year. The increase from 1,115 to 4,122 may not be jaw-dropping. It is impressive, nevertheless.

Redundant nomenclature

BRDC, which is reconfiguring itself, claims credit for this sudden growth. It is shifting its focus from leisure to experiential tourism in order to attract tourists in the small and medium segments — not just to Bekal, but to the entire northern region of the State. The shift in focus is an instant hit, the BRDC management believes. For, out of the total 4,122 foreign tourists who visited Kasaragod last year, 2,472 reached here through what BRDC calls SMiLE initiative (SMiLE is the fancy acronym for Small and Medium Industries Leveraging Experiential Tourism)

If BRDC is truly in the process of a makeover, then the nomenclature becomes redundant. Remember, in 2010 TRKL was reconstituted as Kerala Tourism Infrastructure Ltd. The ‘resorts’ tag still sticks out in BRDC, though — as gratuitously as the ‘Bekal’ label. There is, perhaps, a lesson here for stakeholders in the tourism sector: keep your ear to the ground, and you will get to know the changes in tourism trends. Hopes spring eternal, however. For, homo sapiens will continue to be driven by the inquisitiveness to see new places and people.

(Malabar Mail is a weekly column by The Hindu’s correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2019 1:03:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kozhikode/kerala-tourism-focus-being-shifted-from-leisure-to-experiential-tourism-to-attract-visitors-in-small-and-medium-segments/article29765126.ece

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