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Tourism beckons

When it began in the early 1980s, tourism education in Kerala was more or less limited to training o


One of the 10 paradises in the world - National Geographic Traveller.

One of the 100 great trips for the 21st century - Travel and Leisure.

One of the 10 hotspots for the millennium - Emirates in-flight magazine.

Where India flows at a relaxed pace - The New York Times.

God's Own Country, Kerala, has caught the imagination of the international traveller as never before. Kerala's natural bounties, its arts and crafts, dance and music, food, and traditional treatment and rejuvenation practices have become unique selling propositions to attract different target groups around the world.

As per the estimates of Tourism Satellite Accounting Research (TSA) - a U.N.-accepted measure of the economic impact of tourism in a defined area - tourism in Kerala is expected to grow by 11.6 per cent in the period 2002-2012. This will constitute the highest such projected growth rate in the world.

This figure eclipses the World Travel and Tourism Council's (WTTC) projections for Turkey, where the growth rate is expected to be 10.2 per cent. The figure is higher than that for India as a whole, where it is expected to be 9.7 per cent — the second highest in the world in the reckoning of the WTTC.

The State is also expected to register a growth of 23.5 per cent in terms of `visitor exports' or external account earnings from travel and tourism over the next 10 years. India's estimate for this period was 14.3 per cent while the world average was only 6.5 per cent.

A sector that is racing to keep pace with the `big-bang growth' of Kerala tourism is tourism education.

Tourism education

When it was started in the early 1980s, tourism education in Kerala was more or less limited to training on how to issue tickets and how to construct air fares to different destinations. It had nothing to do with the study of tourism as an industry.

However today, both travel and tourism studies require more or less equal amount of specialisation.

A student who has completed various diploma courses offered by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) stands a very good chance of finding a job in airline companies and travel agencies. Further information on this can be had from the website www.iata.org.

The focus of tourism studies today has shifted from mere training in ticketing and fare construction to tour operations management and marketing of tourism packages. This has also meant a shift in the skill set required for a travel and tourism professional.

Prerequisites

Earlier, a travel agent had to have a head for technical details. But now a tourism professional has more to do with drawing up strategies to attract tourists, designing a good itinerary, taking care of their food needs and managing their activities once they are in the destination of their choice.

Unlike in the case of the travel agents of the past, a tourism executive these days is also required to have excellent communication skills (and preferably be multilingual) and an engaging personality.

Tourism and travel education in Kerala today comprise certificate, diploma and degree courses conducted by a handful of Government-approved agencies, private agencies, universities and IATA-approved travel agents. For a person content to remain at an entry-level job in the travel and tourism trade, a certificate course would suffice. But for those looking to climb up the corporate ladder, a diploma or a degree in the subject is a prerequisite.

Scope of study

After providing them a brief introduction to tourism, its impact and potential, the degree (B.Com./BA Travel and Tourism and Master of Tourism Administration) courses and the diploma courses (PGDBA in Travel and Tourism) take the students through areas such as tour operations management, tourism marketing, basic accounting practices, front office practices, hospitality management, communication skills and language training and human resources management.

Most institutes also require that the student do a project in any area of tourism and/or work for a stipulated period of time with a designated travel agency or tour operator.

Emerging areas

Though tourism marketing remains the first choice of most students completing the degree or diploma courses, there are a few emerging areas in tourism studies in which an increasing number of students are acquiring expertise.

These include leisure tourism management, event management, resort management, pilgrimage tourism management and adventure tourism management.

Health and pilgrimage tourism and resort-based tourism have considerable potential for growth in Kerala's tourism market, according to experts.

These days, no tour itinerary is complete without an Ayurvedic package. This has led to a spurt in demand for trained manpower to design and sell such packages.

Many private institutes, including some resorts, are conducting their own masseur-training programmes to meet the demands of health tourists who come to the State.

The State Government has published a list of approved Ayurvedic centres (details are available at the website www.keralatourism.org) .

An indication of the manpower requirements of the growing tourism industry in the State is available from the fact that a majority of the students who acquire qualifications in travel and tourism are absorbed by the industry within Kerala and outside.

However, salaries in Kerala are lower than that are paid by agencies outside the State.

As such there is also a significant drain of personnel to agencies in Bangalore or Mumbai. As per TSA estimates, employment in travel and tourism in the State is expected to jump from the present 6,93,000 to two million by 2012.

However, industry experts feel that tourism education should keep pace with the rapidly changing requirements of the tourism industry. They feel that it may stagnate by being `just another specialisation' in the education market.

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