Kerala Tourism finally let the cat out of the bag a few days ago.
After keeping uncharacteristically quiet about its 2009 numbers for over 8 months, Kerala Tourism has now revealed that there was a decline in the number of foreign tourists who visited the State in 2009. Nothing unexpected in that, as I wrote back in March. What is mildly surprising is that total tourist arrivals to Kerala in 2009 actually appear to have gone up by 3.42 per cent. Domestic tourists, it seems, have saved the day for Kerala.
According to this report in The Hindu, Kerala’s Tourism Minister says that approximately 5.57 lakh foreign tourists visited the State last year, down by about 6.96 per cent from 2008’s 5.98 lakh international arrivals. Domestic tourist arrivals, however, grew from 75.91 lakh in 2008 to 79.13 lakh in 2009, the Minister says. And it’s these 320,000-odd domestic tourists who, perhaps, helped Kerala’s tourism industry survive the recession; at the very least, these additional domestic tourists helped the State’s tourism numbers look respectable in a recession year.
What’s intriguing about these figures though, is that in February this year The Hindu quoted the Tourism Minister as saying that Kerala had clocked a 17 per cent growth in tourist arrivals in 2009. While I understand that those were probably preliminary estimates, I am rather puzzled how — in about 7 months — a 17 per cent increase in tourist arrivals has been watered down to 3.42 per cent; a 13 percentage point variation.
Notwithstanding such number-crunching mysteries, the 2009 figures indicate that Kerala Tourism’s decision to focus on the Indian market seems to have helped. What interests me though is just how the rise in domestic tourists has affected Kerala’s tourism revenues. Has, for instance, the revenue generated by the increased inflow of domestic tourists offset the likely drop in revenue from the fall in foreign tourist arrivals?
This aspect though has really not been covered in The Hindu piece. It does say that “Total income of the State's tourism sector in 2009 was Rs 13,231 crore.” This income figure is about Rs 100 crore more than the Rs 13,130 crore Kerala earned from tourism in 2008. And as the 2009 tourism stats still do not seem to have been published — at least not on the Kerala Tourism Web site — it’s a little difficult to obtain any real insights.
The bottomline, I guess, is that we should be grateful the State’s tourism sector weathered the choppy waters of 2009. And, perhaps, we should turn to celebrating accolades such as the ‘best holiday destination in Asia’. Or rejoice at the 13.9 per cent growth in foreign tourist arrivals in the first half of this year, rather than fuss over pesky little details like tourism revenues and how it will influence the sector’s future.