Dubai: The southern Indian state of Kerala wants to regain its pre-COVID-19 eminence as one of the country’s top tourist destinations as soon as possible. The best way to go is to try to get more flight connectivity.

It’s not just the pandemic that Kerala has to overcome – devastating floods had taken their toll in 2018 and the tourism infrastructure had yet to recover from that when COVID-19 hit.

“We are down 80% (from 2017 levels) and that includes tourists from the UAE,” said V. Venu, Kerala’s additional chief tourism secretary. “Although visitors to the Gulf country have been few, they are very significant given that they are high-value tourists.

“(From the UAE) we were getting an annual increase of around 16-17%, but in the last four years we’ve had one natural disaster after another, so we have to go back to the plank. drawing to recover our former associates.

“The main objective is to re-engage businesses and operators here to see if we can speed up the recovery – this will take a few years of work.”

Collect all flights

The first priority of the Kerala tourism authorities would be to get the flights back on track. India, which suspended normal commercial flights in 2020, has entered into “bubble” agreements on a bilateral basis with countries. Although most major airlines now operate between the two countries, they are facing severe capacity constraints and longer delays in obtaining approvals – all of which have led to higher airfares.

“Right now it’s a really artificial environment, and so are the prices of plane tickets,” Venu said. “Because supply is very limited, only people who need to travel travel. Once international routes open, the market will take over and prices will drop. We had very robust services to all three airports in State “

Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode airports handle passengers entering and leaving the state. These cities are also the main entry points for Kerala expats based in the UAE. Venu is optimistic that Kannur Airport – Kerala’s newest air hub – will start serving foreign airlines.

“It’s an area of ​​growth – I can see the government granting permission, opening the fourth airport in the state’s aviation sector.”

It’s not just a new airport that has tourism officials excited. Air India, controlled by Indian conglomerate Tata Sons, could breathe new life into Kerala’s pandemic-hit tourism sector by introducing more flights and launching new routes.

“Air India will take more pragmatic decisions and may identify Kerala-UAE sector as its most lucrative route,” Venu said.

fierce competition

When it comes to attracting visitors from Dubai and the United Arab Emirates, the head of tourism has his work cut out for him. “Dubai is one of the toughest and most competitive markets in the world,” Venu said. “For someone from Dubai, the choice is between four hours to Kerala or places like the Maldives, Sri Lanka or even Europe – the Dubai traveler is spoiled for choice.

“It’s a very crowded market to build our brand and keeping that brand in the minds of consumers is a very difficult task, especially for a small state like ours. We don’t have deep pockets like some of our competitors. But it’s an interesting challenge for us – we rely on the goodwill of many people working in the UAE and on positive word of mouth.