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On the Road to Kerala

March 12, 2007 By: Camie Foster Travel Agent

Spice up your clients' plans with a South India sojourn

size, history and heritage can make it simultaneously compelling and daunting
to first-timers. However, you can build immersive itineraries that will appeal
to them—and to clients planning a second or third visit—by sharpening the focus
on South India.

"When you talk about visiting India, it's a
unique experience," says Max Ali, director of sales at SITA World Tours.
is known for its spirituality; visiting its monuments gives you insight into
the culture of the people over the millennia."

 Nature and wildlife surrounds Kerala

No matter where your clients go in India, they'll
encounter lots of people speaking various languages and practicing different

"It's not uncommon to see a temple, a mosque and a
church on the same street," Ali notes. "Religion gives an aspect of
hospitality—visitors are welcomed and people go out of their way to be

First-timers often think of Delhi,
Agra, Jaipur, Rajasthan and the Taj Mahal, says
Ali, but there are many sites of note in the southern part of India, as well.

Upscale operator Artisans of Leisure has a number of
travelers who include South India on their first visit to the country, says
Sonja Stoerr, one of the company's India specialists. Many travelers
spend three or more weeks in India
and want to see as much as possible, since they sometimes expect they'll make
only one visit to India.

Culture is a key draw for tourists to South India

Growing Demand

"Some travelers go because they want to learn more
about Ayurvedic health practices; others want to experience the cuisine,"
Stoerr says. "The most popular attraction is Kerala's Backwaters, which is
a very different landscape than what is found in the North and in Rajasthan,
the most popular tourism destination in India." Other lures include Cochin for travelers interested in Jewish heritage in India and other
international influences.

"The majority of our clients who travel to southern India have
already been to Rajasthan, drawn by the Taj Mahal and many other UNESCO World
Heritage sites," says Pamela Lassers, director of media relations at
Abercrombie & Kent. "Southern India
is a completely different experience, lush and tropical, with historic cities,
traditional folkways and European influences."

Indeed, interest in and demand for Kerala has been growing
steadily among international travelers in recent years. It also draws
vacationers from other parts of India
who are interested in experiencing the region's beauty and history.

Bird-loving guests will enjoy the Taj Garden Retreat Kumarakom

The state of Kerala stretches along the southernmost part of
India's west coast, with
beaches lapped at by the Arabian Sea, as well
as the gorgeous Backwaters that are a popular destination. Topography is
varied, with mountains, waterfalls and a network of rivers, so there's a lot to
see and do, from motorboat rides to diving and surfing.

Your clients can visit everything from temples and festivals
to plantations where tea and spices are cultivated. Kerala also is home to
wildlife sanctuaries.

Creative Itineraries

Artisans of Leisure generally builds time in Cochin and the Backwaters into South
itineraries, Stoerr says.

"Depending on the amount of time and the client's
interests, we may also include time in Chennai and the Periyar Tiger Reserve in
the eastern hills of Kerala," she adds. "For serious divers and water
sports enthusiasts, we're also sending some travelers to the Lakshadweep Islands."

In addition, your clients may well find themselves rubbing
shoulders with India
residents on holiday, says Ali, who've headed to South
for such attractions as temples and spices, as well as the
natural beauty of Kerala.

Consider building in time for a Backwaters cruise so your
clients can see the pace of life on the water.

More urban experiences to suggest include time in Mumbai and
a visit to Bollywood, as well as exploring Cochin
for its spice-trade history and its role as a gateway between Asia and Europe.

Your clients who are spa aficionados may actually initiate
the request to block a day or longer to experience yoga and Ayurveda during
their stay. If not, you should bring up the subject and gauge their interest in
allotting time at a spa-focused resort during their travels, perhaps toward the
end of their journey.

Find the Right Fit

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.

They can easily spend a week touring temples and other
sights, and wrap up their stay with several days at a spa or ashram retreat,
with the depth and focus of the sojourn focused on their specific interests and

"This sort of itinerary lends itself beautifully to a
customized program," Ali notes.

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