I arrived in Kerala on the 31st and the monsoon arrived. A day early, the monsoon is expected with the opening of the school year on the 1st June. If you live in Britain you are not accustomed to such regularity in the weather, such reliability.
Kerala is reliable and it is not just the weather. I am at the Mascot Hotel in the centre of Thiruvananthapuram and to be honest I have no recollection of staying here before ? but one of the hotel managers recognises me and is able, almost instantly, to tell me which room I stayed In back in 2007 when I was working with Dr Venu, the Secretary Tourism, in the Kerala State Government. It was Dr Venu’s enthusiasm to host the 2nd International Conference on Responsible Tourism in Destinations which resulted in the conferences becoming annual events.
I was in The Gambia last week a country attractive to many visitors because of the friendliness of the people, Kerala too has the local people, their daily lives, and their living culture is at the heart of the Kerala experience. The people do not disappoint, they create the charm which is Kerala. Tourism was only recognised as an industry in Kerala in 1986, it now has 6.5 million domestic tourists and 0.5 million international arrivals.
Kerala is reliably different. Power transfers regularly between the two opposing parties, the LDF and UDF, and in a fiercely democratic state ministers talk directly with the local self-government organisations, the panchayat ? and more importantly they listen. This is a state with a unique history and a tranquil beauty which has brought large numbers of domestic and international visitors. They come to a state with a tourism sector dominated by local small enterprises. Kerala’s tourism is large but it is on a small scale, the visitors experiencing daily life in one, according to National Geographic Traveller, of the world’s ten paradises.
The democratic processes in Kerala are built on a culture of questioning and debate and one in which transparency is valued. This cultural context in part explains the consistency of support for Responsible Tourism since the approach was adopted in February 2007 with the State level Consultative meeting Better Together. The new Minister of Tourism, A P Anil Kumar, inaugurating the International Symposium on Tourism and Livelihoods, said that ?Responsible Tourism has great relevance for the State and we have to go forward with greater purpose.? He acknowledged that there ?might have been failures but we have a successful model in Kumarakom?. The Minister said that Responsible Tourism should be insulated from the change of government.
Anil Kumar went on to say
?The RT Model we set up should not be a victim of political vagaries. RT should be made instability-proof. Only then can it be sustainable. I would also like more people to be brought into the experiment.?
There were two Ministers present for the inauguration of the symposium. The Minister for Panchayats Dr M K Muneer also pledged his full support to the Responsible Tourism movement. Dr V Venu, the Secretary for Tourism, widely regarded as the driving force behind Responsible Tourism in Kerala praised local tourism entrepreneurs as the ?unsung heroes of the Responsible Tourism movement.?
During the two day symposium seven of the 100 odd initiatives in Kerala were discussed in some detail, the intention being to learn from the experience in the four laboratories of Responsible Tourism in Kerala: Kumarakom, Kovalam, Kumily and Wayanad. For more on Responsible Tourism in Kerala see www.keralatourism.org/rt-index.php
The Responsible Tourism laboratories in Kerala have been established with a degree of transparent monitoring and reporting which is sadly rare ? as I said at the inauguration the evolving effective working relationship between the ministries and local government ?is a rare phenomenon and should serve as a beacon for other counties.?
There is much more about the symposium on the KITTS website www.keralatourism.org/symposium/outputs.php
As I leave Kerala the annual Jack Fruit Festival in Kanakakunnu is underway. This most versatile of fruits is important to food security and an opportunity for employment. It can be served as a biryani in soups and deserts and fermented into wine. Take a look www.jackfruitfest.org and www.bamboocluster.org
There was a considerable amount of media coverage including this
?Goodwin, a professor of Responsible Tourism at Leeds Metropolitan University, is a person who cannot be easily missed. He is a stocky teddy-bearish man with a square ruddy face adorned by a salt and pepper beard and fitted with twinkling blue eyes. Yet, he managed to remain nearly invisible right through the two-day symposium, intervening only at critical moments. ''I was here to listen to what you had to say and spread the word to the rest of the world,'' he says.?
Dr Venu explains the background to their work on Responsible Tourism in Kerala view