METRO PLUS

Holidays and the Malayalee

ANOTHER summer vacation draws to a close. Monsoon clouds hover threateningly in the horizon. Children struggle to snap off the holiday mode. This year the State saw a large influx of tourists. Kerala's rich diversity has made it into one of the most sought after holiday destinations in the world and there is hardly anyone unaware of its tourism potential. But where do the inhabitants of Gods Own Country go for their holidays? What kind of experience and locales do they prefer?

A wide spectrum of Malayalees, including those who earn their living by planning holidays for people around the globe, were rather taken aback by this question. They just did not think in those terms. Mr E Louis, the Manager of one of the larger hotels in Fort Kochi said that it was really immaterial where he went. Being in the hotel business ensured that he knew where the best places to stay existed but the whole idea was more to relax and unwind. A holiday spent with relatives was quite good.

Keralites in general do not travel too much except for work, said an executive of a well-established travel agency. Short holidays to Munnar or Thekkady or to any of the near by hill stations are the in thing. The local people, he said, are mostly interested in merrymaking while on a holiday. They are interested in having a good time. Very few are really fond of looking at architectural wonders unless they are of the status of the Taj Mahal or the Mysore Palace. A visit to Bangalore or Ooty suffices though now Goa has been added to the list. Couples on their honeymoon may occasionally visit North Indian hill stations like Shimla but holidays to these places are comparatively rare.

The Malayalee rarely likes to travel in large groups preferring a holiday with his family. Longer trips to Delhi, Agra or Jaipur may be gaining ground but are still minimal, percentage wise.

Ria Ann Cherian of Anna Maria Travels on M G Road says that Munnar is a very much sought after destination by Kochites, mainly because it helps them escape from the scorching summer heat. And from Munnar, you can get to other destinations quite easily. Kodaikanal is only 90 miles away, while a three hour journey will take you to Thekkady, which is an all-time favourite holiday spot.

Ms Cherian believes that travelling in groups is on the rise but people here still prefer to go on short holidays with their families. Local attractions like Athirapally, Vazhachal or the Silver Storm water theme park draw a lot of families, with children in tow.

Other popular tours include school trips, where educating the children, was once so important. Today, Goa is a hot favourite with schools and colleges. The other popular choices with this section are Mysore, Bangalore and the smaller hill stations.

Mr Mathew Panicker G of Sita Travels, however, believes that For the purpose of work the Malayalees is very willing to go out, for leisure not so much.'' A local man rarely thinks of a travel budget.

Mr Madhu S Kayarat of PL Roadways offers an explanation for this phenomenon. Most Kerala families have members working outside and during longer vacations they prefer to join their families back home. Their vacation is taken at home. This is so even with people who work abroad and can afford to take expensive holidays in India or to travel around. The moment they come here the family takes over and relatives who fix marriages, family get-togethers and meeting with acquaintances with the NRIs visit in mind often arrange the programmes. Naturally the visitor does not want to disappoint his family.

``There is so much that these people can see in India'', says Mr Kayarat, ``and there are places like Hampi, which all Indians should visit''. He always advises Malayalees on a vacation here to travel for a period before they come home, so that family functions will not deprive them of a holiday. He also believes that Munnar is a favourite. If you look at the registration numbers of the vehicles in Munnar, you will find that the maximum are from Ernakulam.

One form of travel that is on the rise is incentive travel. Many companies offer vacation incentives to dealers or agents who reach the sale targets. These vacations may be taken in, or outside India depending on what the company is offering, says Mr.Jaishankar T.M. of Sundale vacations. These are highly entertainment exercises coupled with sightseeing.

Travelling abroad is becoming popular among certain segments of society, particularly the upmarket group. While Europe or America are expensive, and travel to the Middle East is nearly always for work, the general trend is to take short vacations to the Far East, to Singapore or Hong Kong or Thailand. To sum up briefly, wanderlust has never been too integral a part of the Malayalee psyche.

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