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Kerala UncoveredMay 1, 2007 By: Camie Foster Home-Based Travel Agent
Resources for planning a trip to this tropical, exotic locale
If your clients are looking for a blend of sightseeing and rejuvenation, try to front-load their itinerary with bustle. This way, they'll be more able to fully relax and immerse themselves in the atmosphere and quieter diversions of Kerala toward the end of their stay.
Your clients who are wellness aficionados might already be familiar with Kerala's heritage. Even if they're not, gauge their interest in such disciplines as yoga and ayurveda and suggest that they add these experiences to their stay.
Passports and Visas: 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 .
Tour Operators: Even if your clients are traveling solely to Kerala, both of you will be faced with a number of options. Thus, you may want to start with a package and add upgrades and optional activities matching your clients' interests, or work with a wholesaler or tour operator on a custom itinerary.
A number of wholesalers and tour operators stand ready to help with your clients' India travel. Among them are Abercrombie & Kent (800-55407016, www.abercrombiekent.com),
Artisans of Leisure (800-214-8144, www.artisansofleisure.com) and SITA World Tours (800-421-5643, www.sitatours.com).
SITA is among the providers with a breadth of scheduled and custom 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 interest. 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 postcards 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 or 630-954-2944 or [email protected]. Commission starts at 10 percent.
This fall, the company is debuting a trip by private jet that includes time in Kerala.
For its part, Artisans of Leisure designs its tours with an eye to inclusions, and in most cases will incorporate special activities based on clients' interests at no additional charge. Agents may contact Sonja Stoerr, one of the company's India specialists, at 800-214-8144 or [email protected]. Commission starts at 10 percent.
Lodging: The Taj Garden Retreat Kumarakom (www.tajhotels.com), on the banks of scenic Lake Vembanad, 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 your clients book one of the resort's four luxury villas; each has a private plunge pool. Agents may contact Saibal Sen, general manager, at [email protected] or 011-91-481-252-5711.
Le Meridien Cochin Resort & Convention Centre (www.starwoodhotels.com/lemeridien) 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 011-91-484-270-5777.
Meanwhile, the Malabar House (www.malabarhouse.com) in Fort Cochin is the first hotel in southern 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 [email protected].
Dining: Cuisine is one of the pleasures of spending time in Kerala. Vegetar-ians will be greeted with a range of choices. There are many hotel restaurants for your clients to choose from. Several noted for their charm are the History Restaurant (www.casinogroupkerala.com/html/brunton_boatyard.html) located at Brunton Boatyard in Cochin and the restaurant at Windermere Guest House (www.windermeremunnar.com) in Munnar. —CF
India's Ministry of Tourism
Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala