Sunday, January 17, 2010

Colourful Kerala Rajdhani makes its maiden journey

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New Delhi: Kerala-bound Rajdhani Express painted in the beautiful colours of its beaches, backwaters and enchanting art forms went on its inaugural journey on Sunday, hoping to catch the eyeballs of potential domestic tourists as the train snakes its way to Thiruvananthapuram and back.

"Eventually, we hope to convert these eyeballs into footfalls," Kerala Tourism Secretary V Venu said here, at the inaugural-run of the Thiruvananthapuram-bound Rajdhani from the Hazrat Nizamuddin station in the presence of Union Tourism Minister Kumari Selja.

Wrapping the country's fastest train in the new livery is part of Kerala Tourism's efforts to woo domestic tourists, starting with those from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, states that fall on the Rajdhani's route.

The train, having a new tag line, 'Chalo Kerala' in Hindi and 'Go Kerala' in English, will journey through the heart of India for a period of six months and is to continue until June 2010. The train is expected to reach around 85,000 commuters who throng the railway platforms everyday along the route.

According to the data available with Kerala Tourism, domestic tourist arrivals to Kerala last year touched 75 lakh (against 7.5 lakh international tourists).

"Growing this segment is an important priority for us," Kerala Tourism Director Shivshankar said.

"Last year, due to the global recession there were apprehensions about decline in international tourist arrivals. So in 2009-10 we are following a structured plan to have more of domestic tourists and for this a lot of activities are being undertaken," Shivshankar said. The Rajdhani Express campaign is one of them.

Kerala, described by travel guide Lonely Planet as the state "where India slips into second gear, stops to smell the roses and always talks to strangers," is already reaching out to tour operators in smaller cities like Pune and Nagpur to promote its stunning cliffs, pristine beaches and houseboat cruises on the backwaters.

Besides the train livery, the state tourism department has launched a Dream Season offer where travellers get attractive hotel packages between March and October.

Shivshankar said he expects foreign tourist arrivals to also rise and overall visitor numbers to increase five to 10 per cent.

According to India Brand Equity Foundation, a public- private partnership between the Commerce Ministry and industry body CII, foreign exchange earnings in US dollar terms during the month of November 2009 were USD 1.2 billion compared to USD 1 billion in November 2008.

Asked about travel advisories issued by some developed countries warning their citizens about security risks in India, Shivshankar said: "There are not of serious concern. We have gone through worse."

The IBEF quoted the Euromonitor International's Travel and Tourism in India report as saying that "the Tourism Ministry... has undertaken various measures, such as stepping up vigilance in key cities and at historically important tourist sites. It also deployed increased manpower and resources for improving security checks at key airports and railway stations."

As regards investments in the hospitality sector and their demand for industry status, Shivshankar said most of the investments in Kerala are by and large by local entrepreneurs.

"We do not have very big Marriotts or Four Seasons and investments have not been a constraint."

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