From God’s own country to a shoppers’ paradise—that’s what the Kerala state government has in mind.
The state is gearing up to launch what is being billed as the largest-ever shopping event in this part of the world from 1 December, modelled on the Dubai Shopping Festival and timed to coincide with the large influx of non-resident Keralites who visit home around that time.
Teams of tourism department officials are holding roadshows across countries, especially in West Asia, where about 1.5 million non-resident Keralites work.
The government has appointed a marketing services company, 141 Sercon, to manage and execute the event. “The idea is to tell potential tourists and also NRIs (non-resident Indians) that Kerala is not just about nature’s beauty and backwaters. The shopping festival will add another aspect to tourism into the state. For most people, a vacation is incomplete without a spot of shopping,” says Sercon’s managing director Vijay Singh.
The Dubai Shopping Festival, launched in 1996, has now evolved into one of the most visited retail events in the world with an estimated 3.5 million people spending more than 8 billion dirhams (about Rs8,600 crore), about 8% of the emirate’s gross domestic product. The Grand Kerala Shopping Festival too has ambitious plans.
“We already have a strong leisure focus and the time is right to now add to the experience by adding shopping as a part of the Kerala experience,” says state tourism secretary V. Venu.
The state government expects to spend more than Rs30 crore on the event in the first year to establish the brand.
“This is a five-year project and the first couple of years will focus on the locals and a portion of the two million non-resident Keralites who come home during the winter,” Venu says.
The project will leverage the fact that Christmas and Eid shopping will happen during the period of the festival, between 1 December and 15 January, in which more than 25,000 merchant establishments in 14 districts will participate. The list includes five-star and budget hotels, lifestyle stores, malls and the state’s famed Ayurveda resorts.
While shopping will be the focus, the entire project will weave in Kerala’s traditional flavours and build events around its spices, seafood, handicrafts and art forms, with special expositions planned across the state.
Tourism has become one of the biggest drivers of growth in Kerala. According to Venu, the state is preparing to welcome more tourists and some 2,000 hotel rooms will be added in the next two years across segments.
The Dubai Shopping Festival has proved to be one of the emirate’s big tourist magnates. More than 3,000 retail outlets took part in the 2006-07 event, which drew some 3.5 million visitors.
“We might not reach that scale in the first two years but we are expecting it to be a significant event on the tourism map a few years from now,” says Venu.