Australians head to Kerala for ‘mind, body, soul’ experience

By Neena Bhandari, IANS,

Melbourne : Australians, with their fondness for the outdoor and growing interest in yoga, meditation and ayurveda, are going all out to experience the beaches, backwaters, nature and culture of ‘god’s own country’ – Kerala.

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With arrival figures from Australia in the last five years increasing by a staggering 160 percent, Australia has become the seventh largest tourism market for the south Indian state.

“The volume of tourists has doubled year after year with Kerala emerging as one of the most popular states. The Aussie tourist is now looking for exploring more than just the golden triangle – Delhi, Agra and Jaipur,” Andre Rasquinha of the Melbourne-based Travel Talk Holidays told IANS.

With Australians’ interest in yoga and ayurveda growing, many are looking at a holiday in Kerala for a “mind, body, soul” experience.

“From 2002 to 2008, there has been a 50 percent increase in tourists from Australia coming to our yoga retreat and ayurvedic resort. Our seven nights’ rejuvenation and body purification package is very popular. Travellers are also seeking slimming, stress management and anti-ageing packages,” said Subhash C. Bose, general manager of the Somatheeram Ayurvedic Beach Resort.

“There is also a great demand for culinary tours,” added Mumbai-born Rasquinha, who was a qualified chef with the Sheraton group before migrating to Australia.

Kerala’s tourism minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan led a road show in Sydney and Melbourne this week to showcase the delights of Kerala to Australians, who are soaking up the Incredible India experience.

Last year, nearly 130,000 Australians travelled to India and 15,000 of them visited Kerala.

“We are witnessing nearly 25 percent growth from Australia each year, making it one of our fastest growing markets,” said Venu V, secretary, Kerala Tourism and Cultural Affairs.

He also outlined the special linkages set up between hotel businesses and the village community whereby “every dollar spent goes back into the community”.

“We have only started looking at Australia for the past two years, but the interest has been phenomenal in integrated adventure and eco-tourism packages offering paddling, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking and bird and butterfly watching across south India,” Vinay Sirsi of Kalypso Adventures, who was part of the road show delegation, told IANS.

“Earlier, Australians only went to India if they were adventurous or wanted a spiritual experience, but now Australians are going for an overall experience that today’s India offers – everything from the modern to the traditional, intrinsic India,” said Marnie Barter, who lives in Daylesford, an hour’s drive from Melbourne in a region known for spas and massages.

Barter was inspired to launch Tagore Tours after her very first trip to India with her 12-year-old daughter. She only takes groups of 10, twice a year for 18 to 28 days in March and September and includes all modes of conveyance, especially the train.

She said: “You haven’t seen India unless you take a train journey.”

However, the economic downturn is probably pinching the travel industry the most.

“When there is not enough to pay the utility bills, one can’t take holidays. We have had cancellations since the financial crisis hit the world markets a month ago,” Rasquinha said.

Denise Dodd of the Orient Express Travel Group and Holidays, the lucky winner of a return flight on Singapore Airlines and a five-day Kerala experience at the road show, doesn’t have to worry about the economic downturn. She has just had her “dream come true”.

“I have never been to India, but have always wanted to go to Kerala and Goa,” said Dodd.