South India 411

A number of wholesalers and tour operators stand ready to help with your clients' India travel. Among them are Abercrombie & Kent (800-554-7016), Artisans of Leisure (800-214-8144) and SITA World Tours (800-421-5643). Kapaleeswara Temple, Chennai

SITA is among the providers with a breadth of scheduled and custom-designed India product. Its scheduled departures range from luxury to value, as well as independent and train journeys. The company's FIT department can tailor travel to meet clients' time, budget and specific interests. Agents may contact Pete Sohi, manager, India and Orient division, at 800-421-5643. Commission starts at 12 percent.

Retailers can tap into the agent-only section of Abercrombie & Kent's web site to send customized itineraries and electronic post cards to their clients. In addition, destination specialists are available for three-way calls with retailers and clients to talk about upgrades and additional services. Agents developing custom or VIP India itineraries also can contact Vinni Bernal, supervisor, at 800-323-7308, 630-954-2944 or vbernal@abercrombiekent.com. Commission starts at 10 percent.

A Backwaters cruise, Kerala's most popular attraction

This fall, the company is debuting a trip by private jet that includes time in Kerala. Also new is a two-week itinerary that educates clients about the area's history and traditions.

For its part, Artisans of Leisure designs its tours with an eye to inclusions, and in most cases will incorporate special activities based on client interests at no additional charge. Agents may contact Sonja Stoerr, one of the company's India specialists, at 800-214-8144 or sstoerr@artisansofleisure.com. Commission starts at 10 percent.

When it comes to lodging, Lassers advises that travel agents clearly explain the differences in accommodations in the northern and southern parts of India. "Northern India offers the opulent Oberoi villa properties and the TajPalace hotels," she notes. "Southern India offers village-style resorts, more casual than those in the north, with a distinctive local heritage and personality."

The Taj Garden Retreat Kumarakom, on the banks of scenic LakeVembanad, blends history with beauty. The property, acquired by a missionary family more than a century ago, adjoins a bird sanctuary, which means guests can spot a variety of birds, as well as their nests.

Insider tip: Suggest that your clients book one of the resort's four luxury villas; each provides a private plunge pool. Agents may contact Saibal Sen, general manager, at saibal.sen@tajhotels.com or 91-481-252-5711 or -16.

Le Meridien Cochin Resort & Convention Centre provides a five-star home base in Cochin. Families can spread out in duplex-style two-level family suites. The travel agent contact is Asahaniwini Nayyar, director of sales and marketing. Contact him at 91-484-270-5777.

Meanwhile, the Malabar House in FortCochin is the first hotel in South India to be designated a Heritage Classic Hotel by the government. The boutique hotel is in the city's heritage zone. It faces St. Francis Church, the oldest European church in India, and is a brief walk from the sea. Its Malabar Junction restaurant serves seafood and Mediterranean cuisine. The hotel has 17 rooms and suites; each of the five roof garden suites provides guests with a private roof garden terrace. Contact for VIP arrangements is Mervin Isac, general manager, at mervin@malabarhouse.com.

Cuisine is one of the pleasures of time in Kerala. Vegetarians will be greeted by a range of choices. There are many hotel restaurants for your clients to choose from. Several noted for their charm are the History Restaurant located at Brunton Boatyard in Cochin and the restaurant at Windermere Guest House in Munnar.

Documents

In addition to a current passport with at least six months' validity remaining, U.S. citizens heading to India on vacation will need a tourist visa. Visas for U.S. citizens can be issued for a variety of time spans—up to and including 10 years—and can be transferred to the passport-holder's new passport for a nominal fee. Application details, instructions and forms are available online at www.indianembassy.org.

Visit www.incredibleindia.org or www.keralatourism.org.