Kerala Tourism is taking a comprehensive view in planning a historical stretch of coastal India into a global destination by 2042. The 17-km long Kovalam Poovar Tourism Corridor as it is known is also being implemented to manage an otherwise un-planned tourism destination development process. This area covers the existing popular beaches Samudra, Hawah (Eve’s) and Lighthouse and the sparsely developed stretch of beach southward to Poovar.
Apparently, Kerala Tourism has already invited bids from consultants to study the proposed 30-year master plan for the corridor.
Brief History of Kovalam
According to Wikipedia “Kovalam first received attention when the Regent Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi of Travancore constructed her beach resort, Halcyon Castle, here towards the end of the 1920s. Thereafter the place was brought to the public eye by her nephew the Maharaja of Travancore.
The European guests of the then Travancore kingdom discovered the potentiality of Kovalam beach as a tourist destination in the 1930s. However, Kovalam shot into limelight in the early seventies with arrivals of the masses of hippies on their way to Ceylon in the Hippie Trail. This exodus started the transformation of a casual fishing village of Kerala into one of the most important tourist destinations in all India.”
Comparing Goa and Kovalam
A reviewer on Tripadvisor has suggested that Kovalam, aside from having comparable beaches to Goa, also offers other tourism attractions – “The speciality comes in by way of having beaches (Kovalam, Marari, Cherai, Kannur etc), hill stations (Munnar, Wayanad), Wild Life Sanctuaries (Thekakdy, Parambikulam etc) and backwaters (Alleppey, Kumarakom etc) – all within short distances of few hours travel.”
Comprehensive Planning Intent
The planning process is off to a good start as it will include social, cultural, and heritage aspects in addition to infrastructure. Infrastructure development will not only cover civil constructions but also address environmental related aspects. These include roads and highways, water and power, parking, transportation, solid and liquid waste collection and disposal, water harvesting and welfare of local community have been included. This will go a long way toward avoiding problems faced in Bali and Phuket.
Potential Number of Hotel Rooms and Annual Visitor Capacity
While we don’t know any planning details of the area we can still very roughly estimate the number of hotel keys and visitor arrivals. If we assume a 300 meter wide beach front stretch along the 17-km corridor the location can potentially yield about 20,000 hotels rooms catering to a 2.5-million annual visitor capacity (based on medium development density and other base assumptions). This compares against a 2006 research estimate of about 2,000 rooms in the Kovalam area. If the tourism corridor does happen it will eventually put Kovalam-Poovar in the same league as today’s major regional destinations.
Trivandrum International Airport, which is 16 km north of Kovalam, already serves direct international flights from the Middle East and Singapore aside from the many domestic connections. For a sense of scale, Trivandrum currently annually handles 2.8 million passengers compared to Bali’s Ngurah Rai 12.8 million passengers.
Regional Tourism Implications in Asia
While the Kovalam-Poovar Tourism Corridor is as much a re-development of historical Kerala coastal tourism its at the same time, being so close, a response to Sri Lanka’s re-emergence as a tourism investment destination.
Furthermore, if the destination is sufficiently attractive it will give enough incentive for outbound Indian travelers to head for Kovalam instead of venturing further to other Asian coastal destinations.
The Kovalam-Poovar Tourism Corridor is another large scale government sponsored tourism initiative in Asia besides Desaru Coast (Malaysia), Phu Quoc (Vietnam) and Nusa Tenggara (Indonesia). Unlike the latter locations its not as well known. However, due to its scale and comprehensive planning intent I believe its a destination that we should keep our eyes on as it unfolds.