Bengaluru: Looking at the camera, several men and women in Kerala comprising fish vendors, rickshaw drivers, homemakers and children among others hold out a placard that reads “We Are Open".

This is how a new advertisement by luggage maker Samsonite ends, aimed at exhorting more tourists to visit the flood-ravaged state. It puts across a message that not just hoteliers and other big businesses, but commoners in Kerala too are seeking a revival in tourism.

A lot is at stake in such advertising campaigns, which have created a buzz on social media with 2.5 million views and several celebrity endorsements, and their potential to drive tourist footfalls in Kerala. For a state with an economy crumbling under the stress of its worst floods ever, a revival in tourism is one of the few silver linings.

The massive damages in the shape of loss of private property and livelihood, pegged at 25,000 crore, has been a cause of concern for the Kerala government, which stares at an equal outgo to restore public damage to infrastructure. The government cannot compensate private damages directly, except through schemes such as interest-free loans, but they are crucial for people’s lives and future incomes.

The tourism and hospitality segments are the fuel that drives the services sector, which in turn powers Kerala’s economy. They account for a bulk of the gross value added (GVA), more than 40%, in the services sector. At 63% of GVA, services grew at an average 6.8% during 2012-17, but suffered huge setbacks in the floods.

Just in cancellations on MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions), trade estimates suggest business worth 500 crore was washed away when the floods hit in August. The next few months, however, will be exciting for the state, with India’s largest art expo that usually attracts a lot of international visitors, the Kochi Biennale, scheduled for the December-March period.

“We are trying hard to save 1,500 crore worth cancellations expected in the coming months," said Kerala’s tourism secretary Rani George, who has just got back to her office after a three-day trade fair, the Kerala Travel Mart, aimed at connecting buyers and sellers.

“Tourism accounts for 10% of Kerala’s GDP (gross domestic product), generates an estimated 33,000 crore in revenue and jobs for 1.5 million people. So, it is one of the prime focus areas for the government in the post-flood revival of the economy," she said over phone.

“Immediately after the floods, we met all industry stakeholders and chalked out a 12-point action plan. One of the first things we did was to re-establish connectivity (in flood-hit districts). We prepared a tourism readiness survey and collected (information on) the status of connectivity in 70 major destinations. By now, almost 90% of them have been made operational," said George.

The trade fair, according to her, was also reassuring. “The number of buyers was actually much more than we expected. It seems the perception has changed. They’ve realized that Kerala is ready to take visitors," she said.

The state is readying up some fresh attractions, such as a 100 crore giant installation of epic character Jatayu from Ramayana in Kollam district, and the Malabar River Cruise project that will create a new waterway linking seven rivers, which the government thinks will attract more visitors.

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