Issue dated > 1 - 15 June, 2003  
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Milking The Monsoon

Achal Dhruva - Mumbai

Tourism in India is a highly seasonal product given the geographical dimensions and the topography of the country. Both the inbound and the domestic markets have distinct seasons. However, the monsoon season for most states, barring a few exceptions like Jammu and Kashmir and Uttaranchal (essentially falling in the rain shadow region) have traditionally been the off season for the inbound and domestic tourism industry in India.

Monsoons, though vital for the Indian economy have so far been a wet blanket for the tourism industry dropping hotel/resort occupancies by nearly 50 per cent and nose diving revenues for travel and tour operators servicing the domestic segment.

However, buffeted by a series of setbacks in the past couple of years with an adverse effect on the inbound market, the tourism industry has been strategisisng at ‘Milking the Monsoon’ in an effort to market India as a year round tourism product.

States like Kerala and Goa have long since taken the lead in marketing their states as monsoon destinations, (look at case studies) not many have followed suit. however recently states like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu who have the presence of the Western Ghats, the mountain chain that runs for nearly 1,000 miles along India’s south western coast, have also been proactively toeing the line.

While Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) ran a campaign, ‘Maharashtra in the Rains,’ they launched special monsoon packages only last year. Packages are for Tarkarli (beach), Shirdi (pilgrimage), Bhandardhara (scenic spot), Ganpatipule (beach), Mahabaleshwar and Matheran (hill stations), Harihareshwar (beach), Chikaldhara (sanctuary) and Bordi (beach).

There are two types of schemes for the monsoon packages. At some destinations the two days package provides an extra day free of cost while other packages include complimentary lunch and dinner. While tariffs are reduced by 15-30 per cent at all MTDC properties during monsoon season, the packages offer discounted rates on the lowered tariff. According to Vijay Chavan, senior manager, resorts operation and marketing, MTDC, occupancy due to the monsoon packages increased by nearly 15 percent last year and is expected to rise even further this year. Lonavala, Khandala, Bhandardhara and Malshej Ghat are some of the popular monsoon destinations.

States Ashish Kumar Singh, managing director, MTDC, “The heritage sites of Maharashtra, which are mostly in the Marathwada region can be promoted as monsoon destinations. The region, which is extremely hot during summer, is quite cool and the entire region, which is otherwise dry and drab turns lush green. Ajanta and Ellora caves, Pitalkhora, Bibi ka Makbara are very beautiful during the rains making Aurangabad an excellent monsoon destination.”

In Karnataka places like Coorg, Jog Falls, Abbey Falls are at their beautiful best during the monsoons. Besides these places like Hampi, Mysore, Belur, Halebid, which are presently being aggressively promoted by Karnataka Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC) also have an unique charm during the rains. Promotion of eco-tourism is high on the agenda of tourism plans in the state and many eco-destinations could also be promoted as monsoon destinations.

Since the past two years Tamil Nadu has also been looking beyond temples and hill stations and is working toward promoting a variety of products including lesser known but rich bio-spheres to nurture the industry. Tamil Nadu has a plethora of places to choose from like chains of hills in the Western Ghats, stretches of beaches in the east and waterfalls and dam sites in the southern peninsula. Pitchavaram, Muthupet, and Point Calimere (Kodaikkarai) famous for its bird sanctuary and mangroves in Nagapattinam district are some of the places selected for eco-tourism.

A detailed proposal for the development of Kodiakkarai under eco-tourism at the cost of Rs 274.10 lakh has been sanctioned. The Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park in Annamalai Hills of the Western Ghats is an ecological paradise spread over an area of 108 square kilometres with the Aliyar Falls close by is also being developed for eco-tourism.

Madhumalai Wildlife Sanctuary close to the Nilgiris and Natinal National Park spread over 321 square kilometres with trekking routes from Parsan Valley- Portimund and Pykara is also a wonderful monsoon destination.

Balaji Narayan who heads Akshaya India Pvt Ltd, based in Chennai, feels that monsoons is a time where tourists can get bargains on deluxe hotels, unaffordable at other times of the year. “One of the prime destinations in monsoons in Tamil Nadu is Kanyakumari,” informed Sudha, proprietor of Lovely India Travels. Kanyakumari district on the whole has a treasure trove of attractions like beaches, temples and historical monuments. Tamil Nadu government has taken up the integrated development project for Kanyakumari for the year 2003-2004, spending Rs six crore project on a cost sharing basis with Government of India (GoI).

In absence of any real move to market and sell monsoon destinations in the state many travel and tour operators in the state offer monsoon packages to Kerala. According to Narayanan, ayurvedic packages during the monsoon season in Kerala are quite popular. “It has been proved that Ayurvedic treatments are more effective during the monsoon season,” averred Narayanan. Baywatch Travels, a company based in Chennai handling both outbound and inbound tours, also offers Ayurveda packages in Kerala during the monsoons. The packages include accommodation, plantation tours and ayurvedic massages and a host of treatments in resorts across Kerala. Some of them, like the ‘Herbal Rain Holidays’ package from June to September this year, includes daily massages and rejuvenation therapies.

It is heartening to perceive the efforts of different state governments, but we have a long way to go before we fully capatalise the potential of this season. The concept having taken birth will truly come of age only when the state tourism boards and tour operators market their products in the international arena to the discerning tourist, luring him to the romance of the Indian rain. The effort can well turn this wet blanket into harvest time not only for the Indian economy but also for the Indian travel industry.

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