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Kerala gears up for another tourist season
By Sanu George, Indo-Asian News Service
Thiruvananthapuram, October 23 (IANS) Kerala, attractively promoted by the admen as God's Own Country, is gearing up to put its best foot forward as it gets ready for yet another tourist season.
The season, which begins from October-end and goes on till March, is witnessing last minute arrangements by all those associated with the tourism industry.
Over the years, tourism has spurred the economy of the state, which is otherwise propped up by the annual remittances from Keralites' settled abroad.
The number of foreign tourists arriving in Kerala was up from 210,000 in 2000 to 345,000 in the last calendar year. The inflow of domestic tourists also shot up from five million to six million during the same period.
Bharat Bhushan, principal secretary for tourism, said both the department and the industry are fully prepared to face the challenging season.
"The tourism minister and myself were in Kumarakom Friday and are now in Kovalam overseeing the arrangements," Bhushan told IANS.
The revenue generated from tourism in the state has shot up from Rs.5.24 billion in 2000 to a staggering Rs.10 billion ($220 million) last calendar year.
Likewise the total number of rooms available for accommodation has also shot up from 4000 to more than 10,000 in the last five years.
The state government has also chipped in by increasing its allocation plan for tourism from Rs.360 million in 2000 to Rs.742 million as on 2004.
Alappuzha, popularly known as the Venice of the East, is one place where hectic activity is taking place as it awaits the arrival of the largest number of foreign tourists, who enjoy the houseboat rides on the serene backwaters.
"This season we have 250 houseboats ready. Last season began on a high note, but tsunami struck and left all of us poorer. We hope this season could make good the loss of the previous season," Tomy Pulikattil, who owns a fleet of houseboats, said.
Leading tour and travel operator E.M.Najeeb said that the industry is looking up and there should be a 12 to 15 percent growth over last year, according to the bookings that the industry has of now.
"This time we are going to get charters from Russia, Europe and Britain. This could well be the season that would take us to greater heights," Najeeb said.
Koshy John, an expert tour guide will visit London soon for a three-week training course being organized by a leading British tour company.
"The course is being conducted by a specialist company because they plan the tourism needs of British nationals who are retired," John said.