On the Road to Kerala

India's 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. "India 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 religions.

"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 helpful."

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 India 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 LakshadweepIslands."

In addition, your clients may well find themselves rubbing shoulders with India residents on holiday, says Ali, who've headed to South India 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 goals.

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