Kerala does a Phoenix again.
If you have read my earlier blog on the biennial Kerala Travel Mart KTM2018 (KTM2018), you might recollect that in the same year, Kerala had just emerged from the double whammy of devastating floods and the Nipah virus but had bounced back with a vengeance in September 2018, to pull off its 10th and biggest KTM until then and had done so with characteristic pomp and glory, unfazed by its recent calamities.
Thanks to Miss Corona, the last 2 years have been fraught with misery and despair, causing travel and tourism to come to a total standstill. With Covid’s ‘Strike Withdraw Rinse Repeat’ modus operandi via various variants and choice Greek letters, the future did seem terribly uncertain and bleak.
Nevertheless, the never say die spirit of Kerala and its tourism players, valiantly made efforts to rekindle the spark through their biennial, September held, Kerala Travel Mart but earnest attempts notwithstanding, they were unable to maintain their date with September 2020 but did hold a virtual mart in March 2021.
As the world eventually tried to limp back in 2022 and Kerala quickly planned to hold the KTM in March 2022, Corona hovered around again, playing cat and mouse with the Omicron version, which further threw plans into disarray.
But as I have said several times in the past, it takes a lot to vanquish Kerala and hence eventually May 2022 became the month that would bring the KTM alive and the Phoenix rose triumphantly yet again, to accomplish what is well known as the largest tourism event in the country.
About the Kerala Travel Mart –
For those who have not read my earlier story on KTM2018, below is a small recap of what it represents.
Kerala, the tiny sliver of a state on the South West coast of India, labels itself as God’s own country and its diverse topography has always been a tourist’s paradise.
Since tourism plays such a major role in boosting the state’s economy, there arose a need to have a mechanism to enable the promotion of tourism in the state. Thus in the mid 90’s, was born the Kerala Travel Mart Society which was a cohesive network of members who hailed from various tourism based categories like hotels, resorts, tour operators, travel agents, houseboats, homestays, airlines, event companies, tourism associations and also the Kerala state tourism department.
The Society acts as the spokesman on behalf of Kerala’s tourism industry and apart from other activities related to promoting the cause, it also organizes and conducts the biennial Kerala Travel Mart (KTM), which is one of the largest exhibitions in India. Its main goal is to market Kerala by showcasing the products of its various members via exhibitions. The first of these marts was held in the year 2000.
Tour operators and media partners are invited to the mart both from India and internationally. Pre and post event Fam(iliarization) trips are arranged by the KTM for media as well as buyers and they are given an up close and personal interaction with the products and destinations that they will sell through their words and their travel companies respectively.
After my first experience at KTM2018, I was privileged yet again to be a media invitee at KTM2022 which was recently held from May 5th – 8th at the usual Samudrika and Sagara Convention center, Cochin, Kerala, India.
Read on to experience the 11th edition of the mart, KTM2022, through my eyes and experiences.
The 11th edition, the KTM2022 –
Despite the iffy circumstances, KTM2022 achieved a laudable turn out with over 300 international buyers and also around 1200 Indian buyers interacting with 320 exhibitors who ranged across the span of humble homestays to giant hotel chains. There were a total of 55,000 buyer seller interactions that were pre scheduled.
Invited members of both national and international media covered the event and also experienced the pre event fam trip.
The mantra of Responsible Tourism and supporting of the local society, was yet again the focus of the mart and the 9 point charter which was constituted during the 9th edition of the KTM in 2016, was reiterated once more. This event was declared a green mart with the sellers eschewing plastics and other such environment unfriendly material wherever possible and also reducing the usage of paper by preferring e-brochures.
Pre event Fam trips –
Well thought out routes that showcase Kerala’s varied topography, destinations and wellness experiences, are the highlights of the media experience. In order to optimally showcase the features that Kerala has to offer, there were 6 Fam trips that were organized for the media, prior to the exhibition. Each group was accompanied by a specialized tour assistant who would escort the group throughout the trip. This time’s routes were classified into the 3 regions namely North, Central and South Kerala.
For more stories of my adventures, click here KTM2022 – Media Tour and be as entranced as I was, on my ‘yatra’ through God’s Own Country.
My experience at the KTM2022 –
I was a guest of the KTM as a part of the media and I began my experience there with the Fam tour which began on May 1st and ended on May 5th, in time for the formal inaugural session and grand dinner at the capacious Lulu Bolgatty International Convention Center that adjoins the Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty and is managed by the Hyatt group.
May 5th – Inauguration of the KTM2022
The convention center is spread across a gigantic 10 lakh (1 million) sq ft and is said to be the largest of its kind in India. It can accommodate 10,000 people, has 3 helipads and can park over 1500 vehicles.
The Grand Hyatt (read my blog) itself is a premium waterfront resort that rises imposingly out of the Bolgatty island and offers a selection of lavishly appointed rooms, suites and even villas, spread across 26 acres of the island, with stunning views of the surrounding waters and beyond.
The program began in typical fashion, by welcoming the guests at the entrance with traditional drumbeats and local dances.
The evening was literally set in motion with snake boats slithering through the waters of the Vembanad, as Kerala Tourism presented the curtain raiser of the Champions Boat League snake boat race which is scheduled in August 2022. This is said to be the largest team sport in the world with 100 oarsmen per team.
After this, the indoor proceedings began with showcasing the essence of Kerala via a program named Keraliam, which was a vibrantly curated tapestry of various local art forms. Featuring Kalaripayatu, Kathakali, Mohiniattam, Duffmutu and other cultural displays, the artistes performed against the backdrop of vignettes of Kerala traversing the large background screen.
The performances were presented in the true spirit of secularism, seamlessly spanning across all communities, to eventually culminate with the rendition of Vande Mataram with the screen then displaying glimpses of destinations in other states of India.
The stage then made way for the dignitaries of the evening and the function began with an invocation prayer followed by a welcome speech by Mr Baby Mathew, President of the KTM.
The various dignitaries on stage included the guest of honor, Padmashree Mr M A Yusufali, chairman and managing Director of the Lulu Group International, Mr K Srinivas IAS, Principal Secretary, Kerala Tourism, Mr PK Shashi, Chairman KTDC, Mr Krishna Teja, IAS Director of Kerala Tourism, Ms Vigneshwari IAS, MD KTDC, Mr Mohammed Farooq, Regional Director, Ministry of tourism and many others. His Excellency the Governor of Kerala, Mr Mohammed Arif Khan was a part of the proceedings virtually and he formally inaugurated the KTM2022 albeit online.
This year was declared the Year of Tourism with many more events lined up in the months to come, including the Muziris Biennale and the Champions Boat League.
Mr Baby Mathew stated that the theme of KTM2020 was Responsible tourism, Malabar tourism, Caravan tourism and the wellness stalwart, Ayurveda.
The audience was then addressed by Mr Krishna Teja, who presented an Audio Visual that showcased what Kerala had to offer, including some new products. Among the new offerings, the ever innovative Kerala has unleashed Caravan Tourism, aptly labelled Keravan (the wordplay is one more reason why I love Kerala :-D) which plans to enable tourism in the lesser known corners of the land. Caravan parks will be established at convenient locations so as to easily access locales in different parts of the State.
He also stressed that Kerala was a Covid safe destination due to stringent methods being followed and its excellent vaccination coverage.
One more new feature that was launched is the Whatsapp Chatbot Maya, which gives the tourist extensive information on Kerala tourism, including destinations, experiences, stay, food, culture, travel, weather, Covid protocols etc. The conversation can be initiated with a Hi on +91 7510512345 or scanning the QR code.
The evening proceeded with inspiring speeches by Mr K Srinivas, Padmashree Mr M A Yusufali, Mr Mohammed Farooq etc.
The message of the event was that a refreshed and safe Kerala that had risen bravely from the Covid pandemic and was all set to treat its visitors to its legendary hospitality and gorgeous locales, while maintaining its commitment to responsible tourism.
The inaugural session was followed by the signature sumptuous and lavish dinner that is served at every KTM inauguration, with a section dedicated to showcasing the best of Kerala cuisine and also multi cuisine options to suit the global community and of course the vast and stunning dessert counter that totally boggled the mind and made it very complex for vacillating minds to choose 😎
Live bands and free flowing spirits served alongside the free flowing mighty Vembanad lake, added to the magic of the night.
I must make a special mention that at this dinner I was fortunate to finally meet celebrity Chef Suresh Pillai, after years of communicating with him online.
May 6th – Day 1 of the KTM2022 at Samudrika and Sagara Convention Center, Willingdon Island
The actual Travel Mart was formally declared open on Fri May 6th at the same venue as the previous KTM. The Samudrika and Sagara Convention center is located within the premises of the Cochin Port Trust close to the backwaters of Willingdon island and is available as a venue for large gatherings personal as well as official.
Visitors were greeted at the entrance of the Mart by glimpses of Kerala in various forms.
This was followed by the section with the registration counters, which then led to the stalls.
The layout was organized into 5 blocks, A to E and the stalls were laid out in 3 rows across the longitudinal strip of the convention center, finally leading to the food court which had a limited number of stalls as compared to the past.
The event was marked by various seminars and also meetings between hundreds of sellers and buyers, both International and Indian. There were a total of 55,000 meetings that were scheduled.
It was truly comforting and refreshing to finally see life getting back to normal again with the buzz of activity which optimistically signified the potential businesses and tourism associations that were likely to manifest in the near future.
One could also entertain oneself as shown below 😀
The washroom facilities were reasonably well maintained.
A few glimpses of the event can be viewed in the pictures.
The first two days of the KTM were only for registered participants but the last day was thrown open to the public.
Networking dinner at Le Meridien Kochi –
The day ended with a gala dinner hosted at the Le Meridien Kochi, an upscale 5 star hotel with posh facilities for both leisure and business travellers. The 18 acres of land also include the adjoining banquet hall that sprawls across 60,000 sq ft and can play host to 5000 guests.
Live bands accompanied the vast dinner spread that was curated by the celebrity chef Suresh Pillai who has set up the Restaurant Chef Pillai at Le Meridien Kochi, while alongside, the cocktails made for a heady evening in this mini world comprising of international and Indian guests.
I left the next day but the KTM went on for the next 2 days, concluding with the Valedictory ceremony on Sun May 8th, 2022.
Check out this quick encapsulation of my entire trip –
KTM contacts –
Please Note –
On this trip I was hosted by the Kerala Travel Mart Society and partnering hotels, as a media invitee and I thank them for the hospitality. My narration is based on the inputs I received from various sources as well as my personal experiences.
May 1st to 8th, 2022