A confluence of forces — increasing chronic budget deficits, declining agriculture, slowing tourism, reduced foreign remittance, among others — make it necessary to think about new ideas for developing Kerala economy.
It seems Kerala government gimmicks and shortcuts are catching up with the tourism industry, reports The Times of India (“God’s own destination, but heading nowhere,” Apr. 27, 2016).
“The problem is that what you see on the screen is very different from what a tourist experiences when they touch down,” says the report. Seems like the Kerala tourism department has been using the skills from the movie industry in the state to win awards, but lacks understanding of essentials for building a brand. Brand is about trust and promise. Marketing makes promises about future experience that must be fulfilled. Otherwise the trust is broken, and the brand withers. Apparently, Kerala tourism marketing was about “luring tourists,” and the methods are no longer working.
“The basic requirements are infrastructure development and capacity building. Government needs to ensure good quality roads, make tourist spots garbage-free, provide hassle-free inland navigation by mid-size boats from Kollam [2. 3] to Kottpuram, develop eco-tourism clusters to protect Kerala as a green destination, besides ensuring continuous quality audit of tourist facilities,” said E M Najeeb, president Confederation of Kerala Tourism Industry. Tourism cannot function in a bubble, but is enmeshed in the local economy. It is not viable or practical to develop good quality roads, make tourist spots garbage free, or provide hassle-free inland navigation for the sake of tourism. However, it would be feasible to achieve those goals as part of overhauling the Kerala economy for making it sustainable.
First step is to develop a plan for an optimum transportation network for whole of Kerala. Once different modes of transport suitable for different regions are identified and transportation networks are designed, they can be constructed as funds become available. It will not solve the problems immediately. But, over time, will provide adequate transportation — which will never be achieved with the current piecemeal, ad-hoc, fragmented approach. Here is an outline of the priority areas for transforming Kerala economy to be sustainable:
- Enhance quality of education
- Agriculture producing premium organic agro-products 
- Plan Kerala-wide optimum transportation networks for phased implementation
- Implement integrated wellness and heathcare solutions
- Implement integrated water distribution and management
- Implement integrated waste management and pollution control
- Develop electronics and ICT (information and communication technologies) industrial capabilities, beyond the current services focus
Building malls and apartments will not result in a sustainable economy. Neither will “exporting partially educated people.” As experience has shown, IT Parks, as currently implemented, will also not produce required results. So it is time for serious investment in core industrial capabilities. Electronics and ICT sectors can form core “market activities” for a comprehensive economic development plan, for example, using “Metropolitan business planning” methodology.
To sum up, trying to build the infrastructure needs of tourism in isolation is not viable. But it can be achieved by an integrated approach for transforming the Kerala economy to be sustainable.
- Think big for overall development
- Revive agriculture to promote tourism
- Land scarcity not a reason for lack of economic development
- Development projects require visionary leadership
- A framework for clean environment