Abraham George, Chairman and Managing Director of Intersight Group of Companies is the new president of the Kerala Travel Mart (KTM) for 2013-15.
Abraham George talks in detail about the changes needed in the tourism sector and the initiatives needed to be taken care of by the state government.
As the president of Kerala Travel Mart (KTM), what is your opinion on the status of tourism in Kerala?
I think this may be the right time to bring lots of changes in the tourism industry in Kerala. We have to bring up new ideas and techniques to tackle the huge competition, which we are facing in the national and international level. KTM is a forum for this purpose. Coordinating with the Kerala tourism industry, we are planning to bring new ways to develop tourism industry in the state by conducting various interactions and discussions with industry stalwarts.
What type of changes you want to bring up in Kerala?
For the last 25 years, we are following a conventional system. You can see various nations, states, entrepreneurs etc coming up with new products and new techniques. We must also come up with new products and ways in order to withstand the huge competition which we are facing now.
It is said that the tourism experience in Kerala has reached up to a saturation point. What is your opinion?
I don’t agree with it. The products in Kerala are unique. For example, nowhere in the world we can have the backwater experience like that we see in Kerala. The problem is based on how we create experiential products and how we present it in front of the global market. For the last 25 years, we were the leading ones in the global market. But recently investors from India and international level had made their footprint in the tourism market with the same tactics. As a result of such a wave, we are now pushed back. It is not because that our products are of low quality but it is because more competitors have entered the field.
We should search for new ways to compete with them and get out of this crisis situation. Earlier, a traveller to India had only limited choices but now there are many. Supply has increased but we had not created our demand. So, we have to find out new marketing techniques.
It is more affordable for a family to travel and stay in Sri Lanka, Malaysia or Singapore than choosing Kerala as their travel destination Do you agree with this statement?
No, I don’t agree. We have far better products in affordable prices. People are highlighting exceptional cases only. This opinion may be based on two or three properties. We can’t make an assumption with this. Any destination in Kerala consists of 50 to 100 properties. There are medium properties also. The thing is that, Kerala tourism industry must be ready to counter the barriers and should try to come forward. Awareness should be created among the tourists. Development is not only based on good architecture and infrastructure but also based on ample marketing techniques. The whole infrastructure of Kerala can’t be changed in order to promote tourism. So, we should be able to market with what we have.
Figures show that we have tourism based income of Rs 21,000 crore. Why the government of Kerala is still refusing to announce tourism as an industry?
This is a demand which has been raised since years. I believe that this will be considered soon.
Harthals and strikes are becoming a major threat to the tourism industry in Kerala What steps have been taken by the KTM society and Kerala government to tackle the situation?
In my opinion, this situation is because of less coordination from the side of the industry, which had worsened the situation. There should be an industrial friendship within the society, which can help avoid such issues. For example, last year, we had a strike for two consecutive days. On behalf of KTM, we tried a lot to make an exception for tourism industry and I think all the trade unions also agreed with this point. At that time all the leaders asked us to implement this in the low level and to coordinate with the locals. They asked us to create a relationship with the locals and to convince them the importance of tourism. But it didn’t work well. Usually harthals, though announced by the leaders, are implemented by the locals. It is the need of the industry to make the people convinced. This time KTM has decided to take up this issue and I have discussed this in our regional meetings also.
Our infrastructure, especially our roads, is seen to be in a very pathetic condition Why the KTM society is not forcing the government to take necessary steps to improve the facilities?
KTM society cannot be directly involved in this issue. To improve infrastructure and road facilities of a particular place, the involvement of the local leaders and ML A is very essential. Only they can take the initiative. KTM society can express their opinion only. It is the local leaders and industry partners, who should take the initiative to improve the facilities. We should change the attitude of blaming the government and the prevailing systems. It is the need of the industry, so they should take the initiative. KTM is ready to coordinate all these. But we need the support from every part. The society alone can’t do anything.
There is a talk that the houseboat association is going to boycott this years’ KTM. Why? Can you explain?
The problem is that we can’t exhibit houseboats completely in KTM. There are facilities to exhibit maximum two or three houseboats. We discussed this issue in the regional meeting organised at Alappuzha with the houseboat association representatives. But, I think, they are not able to agree with the point of exhibiting selected houseboats in KTM. Discussions are going on and the report will be submitted soon.
Experiencing a real houseboat is something very different. Do KTM have any plan to give the participants a houseboat experience?
There is a suggestion to reserve a day exclusively for houseboats. The very next day after KTM, we are planning to arrange a stay in houseboats to have the real experience of what it is. This will help to showcase the houseboats in a very different way.
We are trying to arrange a tour to houseboats for the participants in KTM.