SMiLE drive pays dividends in North Malabar tourism

An innovative destination development drive is drawing more foreign tourists to Kerala's northernmost districts of Kannur and Kasaragod, largely benefiting local communities.

The project, Small and Medium Industries Leveraging Experiential Tourism (SMiLE), has so far created 93 entrepreneurs offering homestays, resorts, houseboats and other tourism services, a press release said.

They played host to 4,488 foreigners, mostly Europeans, so far and the authorities expect that the new year would bring more cheer to them.

SMiLE had targeted 25 per cent foreign tourists arrivals in 2018 in the destination, but it already crossed 72 per cent in North Malabar; 199 per cent in Kasaragod district and 44 per cent in Kannur district, the release added.

Not only its beaches, backwaters and hill stations but folk and martial arts, traditional systems of healing and newly introduced watersports also attract visitors.

"The region has some unique attractions, and the SMiLE entrepreneurs introduced some exciting products adding value to it," Managing Director of the state-run Bekal Resorts Development Corporation (BRDC) spearheading the campaign, T.K Manzoor said.

"Some were so thrilled that they extended their holidays, thanks to their hosts who had undergone training under the SMiLE in leveraging experiential tourism.

In the process, they were inventing new products attractive to the visitors."

One of the attractions in Kasaragod was Suranga, the unique water harvesting system of a horizontal tunnel in the laterite hills existing in the region for years for drinking water and irrigation.

In Kannur, the holidaymakers are taken through the rich mangroves ardently preserved by the environmental activists, and performance of Theyyam, the dancing gods of north Malabar.

Now there are facilities for accommodating 400 tourists a day under the SMiLE, spread across the two districts.

(with news agency inputs)