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Opening Remarks by Ambassador at the Kerala Tourism Road Show in Zurich on February 5, 2019

Posted on: February 05, 2019 | Back | Print

Opening Remarks by Ambassador at the Kerala Tourism Road Show in Zurich on February 5, 2019

Good Evening everybody,

Let me begin by thanking you for joining us today. 

I congratulate the Kerala Tourism for organising this event today in Zurich. 

I am happy that Kerala Tourism has chosen to put up this road show in Switzerland. 
Having spent over a year in this beautiful serene land of Switzerland, where Indians come in hundreds of thousands every year for tourism, I can say for sure that there is huge potential untapped potential for collaboration and cooperation for promotion of tourism. 

During my travels to the length and breadth of this landscape, I realised that what makes this country the attraction of the world, is that here in Switzerland, every Canton, every city, every small township and every village has something unique to offer. Wherever you go, you return with the satisfaction of having experienced something unique. The more you explore, the more you realise that there is much more you need to enjoy and explore. 

Last week several of us were in Davos for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. Several thousands of people from across the world flocked to that little small village in a remote corner of Switzerland. No Airports nearby, no four-lane roads, No huge seven star hotels and resorts. But, the people who travelled to that snow laden little village of Davos included several heads of states and over three thousand CEOs. Last year Davos hosted our Prime Minister and President Trump. The total worth of CEOs who attended the meeting this year is over a trillion dollars. 

You take another small town of Interlaken.  Every year hundreds of thousands of Indians flock to that little town. One of the attractions is the statue of the Indian film maker ‘Yash Chopra’. To say the least, Switzerland continues to be a major attraction for Indian Bollywood shootings. It attracts millions of tourists from all across the world.  

I see a huge similarity for India, including for Kerala. Every small township and every village in God’s Own Country has something unique to offer for visiting tourists. It has a history of engagement with the world that traces back to over five thousand years. Kerala was a major spice exporter as early as 3000 BCE, according to Sumerian records. Its fame as the land of spices attracted ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians to Muziris in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE. Arabs and Phoenicians were also successful in establishing their prominence in the Kerala trade during this early period. In the last centuries of BCE the Kerala became important to the Greeks and Romans for its spices, especially black pepper. The Cheras had trading links with China, West Asia, Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire. 

The Jewish connection with Chera-nadu started in 500 BCE. This Jewish connection is believed to have led to the arrival of St. Thomas one of the disciples of Jesus Christ to Muzuris, bringing Christianity to India much before it reached most of Europe. Ancient Roman Natural philosopher Pliny the Elder who lived in the first century CE mentions Muziris as India's first port of importance in his Naturalis Historia. According to him, Muziris could be reached in 40 days' time from the Red sea ports in Egyptian coast purely depending on the South West Monsoon winds.

Last month, I visited Muzuris, modern day Kodungallur in Kerala, with my family. What a unique experience standing in that ancient land, where west met the east, where history was made. Where the world came to shop, where St. Thomas came to introduce Christianity, where the Cheraman Juma Mosque which was built in 629 CE, which makes it the first mosque in India and the oldest mosque in the Indian subcontinent is located. If Europeans had not come to India, if Vasco de Gama had not landed in Kerala coast in 1498 CE the history of Europe and perhaps the history of the world would have been different. 

My land of Kerala is unique. It is indeed God’s Own Country. The stories of Mahabali, whom we call with love Maveli, and the festival of Onam, Parasuram and Creation of Kerala and the history of Adi Shankara born in Kerala in 8th century who consolidated the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. The art forms of Kathakali to the martial arts of Kalari Payattu all make this land unique. And today this unique land is conquering the world including Switzerland through Ayurveda. 

Another unique place that I visited in Kerala last month is Karumadi near Alappuzha, called Venice of the East. There we saw a Buddha statue found believed to be old as 9th century and was abandoned for centuries in a nearby stream. It is indeed intriguing to know how in the middle of that land a Buddha statue came. Every piece of land in God’s Own Country has a history to say and something unique to offer.

I want to share with you the story of a university student who asked me a question in one of my interactive sessions in Switzerland. I keep on speaking about how great my India is, its culture, its history and its diversity. She asked, Ambassador how much time one should spend in India to get a grip on the Indian culture and Indian way of life. I thought for while about the huge task she has before her to get a grip on Indian culture, which is so vast and so diverse. I said to get a grip on Indian culture, perhaps you need to spend a lifetime or a little more than a lifetime in India; to get a taste of Indian culture, perhaps a years or at least a few months. But if that is also not possible, the best option is to visit an Ayurveda centre in Kerala for a few weeks. 

India is a large market for travel and tourism. It offers a diverse portfolio of niche tourism products - cruises, adventure, medical, wellness, sports, MICE, eco-tourism, film, rural and religious tourism. India has been recognized as a destination for spiritual tourism for domestic and international tourists. Total contribution by travel and tourism sector to India’s GDP is expected to increase from US$ 234.03 billion in 2017 to Rs US$ 492.21 billion in 2028. The launch of several branding and marketing initiatives by the Government of India such as ‘Incredible India!’ and ‘Athiti Devo Bhava’ has provided a focused impetus to growth. The E- Visa has brought Ease of Visiting India. The government has also released a fresh category of visa - the medical visa or M visa, to encourage medical tourism in the country. Incredible India 2.0 campaign and the ‘Incredible India Mobile App’ have contributed to increase in the number of visitors to India. The Government is working to achieve one per cent share in world's international tourist arrivals by 2020 and two per cent share by 2025. The Government has also been making serious efforts to boost investments in tourism sector. In the hotel and tourism sector, 100 per cent FDI is allowed through the automatic route.

In the Embassy in Berne, we have a very ambitious outreach programme to address the curious minds of Switzerland, a program to reach out to all in Switzerland. In Switzerland, we have launched an outreach programme captioned ‘Next Destination Incredible India’. It aims at targeting the inquisitive mind of Swiss at every corner of this country. It also targets the Germans, French, Italians, Spanish, British and other Europeans who constitute 25% of this country and the millions of foreign tourists who flock to this country every year. India can offer everything that Switzerland offers at much less cost and much larger scale. Come and try it out. That is the message of ‘Next Destination Incredible India’. 

In March this year, we are launching a programme ‘India Year of Tourism in Switzerland’ for a year April 2019 – March 2020. We plan to reach out to each and every corner of Switzerland. We see Kerala Tourism as a partner in our efforts. 

In Barcelona, Spain, there is a statue of Christopher Columbus with Columbus pointing his hand towards India. A dream that he could not fulfil during his lifetime. When I look at the landscape of Switzerland I see millions of Swiss and other Europeans pointing their hand to India with a dream to visit India. I see a huge potential for doubling and tripling the number of Swiss tourists to India by 2020. I wish you all the best. 

Thank you.